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International AIDS conference put US weaknesses on display

  • Author: Emily Judem
  • Updated: September 29, 2016
  • Published July 21, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC — The phrase "AIDS-free generation," popularized by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a speech last November, is ubiquitous in media worldwide ahead of the International AIDS Conference kicking off Sunday in the US capital.

Much of the reporting reinforces the idea that the global fight against HIV/AIDS may indeed be reaching a "Turning Point," as GlobalPost has reported in a Special Report in partnership with the PBS NewsHour.

Just this week, Reuters reported that AIDS deaths have slowed in sub-Saharan Africa, the Associated Press released a video that declared a turning point in the AIDS epidemic and US News and World Report's Healthday pointed to "a renewed sense of promise" that researchers are closer than ever before to finding a cure.

Indeed, developments like a new HIV prevention strategy in Tanzania, decreasing HIV prevalence rates in Zimbabwe and increased community involvement in South Africa all point to a real turning point in the global epidemic.

And the recent announcements of the release of the first over-the-counter HIV test and the FDA's approval of Truvada as a preventative drug against HIV also seem to have sparked hope in the days leading up to AIDS 2012.

But the upcoming conference has also brought another issue into focus.

This will be the first time in 22 years that AIDS 2012 will be held in the US, and it has become clear that America is nowhere close to an AIDS-free generation at home. As John Donnelly and Juliana Schatz reported in GlobalPost's series, Washington, DC has a higher AIDS rate than five southern African countries that received significant US aid through the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).

The Office of National AIDS Policy's homepage features a quote from President Obama in 2011 that states, "Few could have imagined that we'd be talking about the real possibility of an AIDS-free generation. But that's what we're talking about…make no mistake, we are going to win this fight."

How exactly the administration plans to win the fight remains unclear. Experts question President Obama's AIDS plan, including Gregg Gonsalves, a longtime AIDS activist now at Yale University.

"The Obama administration has turned out to be a big disappointment," he said. "They talk big but they have no new money behind it. They talk about an AIDS-free generation, but they cut the PEPFAR budget."

J. Stephen Morrison, Senior Vice President and Director of the Global Health Policy Center at CSIS wrote that "an 'AIDS-free generation' remains more a mantra than a set of clear policies and programs."

Morrison added that President Obama and Secretary Clinton aim to raise effective AIDS treatment from 4 to 6 million by 2013 using existing resources.

But as budget constraints loom, the way forward remains foggy. That President Obama will not be present at AIDS 2012 doesn't help his cause.

Other leaders, including Hillary Clinton, former President Bill Clinton, former First Lady Laura Bush and philanthropist Bill Gates will be present. So will 20,000 other participants from around the world.

Attendees hope AIDS 2012 will help set the agenda, both globally and domestically, as leaders, activists, and advocates from around the world discuss the achievements made and the goals ahead.

GlobalPost will offer extensive coverage of the conference — which runs from July 22-27 — from Washington, DC and will keep you up to date on the latest news, debate and analysis. Follow along on Twitter.

PBS NewsHour will air a segment on HIV/AIDS co-produced with GlobalPost on Thursday evening. Check local listings to tune in.

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