On the heels of The International AIDS Conference (IAC) which took place on August 3-8 in Mexico City, a plethora of news announcements and developments provided further context about the state of the HIV/AIDS epidemic which is responsible for 2.5 million people becoming newly infected each year.
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a national study estimating that in 2008 there were 56,000 new HIV infections in the US compared to 40,000 last reported in 2006
- An analysis of the 2006 National Health Survey, also conducted by the CDC, found that only 40.4% of Americans aged between 18 and 64 reported ever having been tested for HIV, which leaves about 60% who have never been tested
- A report issued by the Black AIDS Institute, 'Left Behind! Black America: A Neglected Priority in the Global AIDS Epidemic' illustrates the impact of HIV/AIDS on Black Americans, who make up 70% of new HIV diagnoses among teenagers and 65% of HIV-infected newborns
- President Bush signed into law a five-year authorization of the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) that lifts the 15 year-old HIV entry ban. The legislation removes the statutory ban on HIV-positive non-citizens gaining immigration status and travel visas originally proposed by the late Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC) and codified into law in 1993
- The legislation authorizes $48 billion to be spent on foreign AIDS relief over the next five years
Yet, in our own back yard, there is no comprehensive strategy, dedicated domestic funding, or plan to fight the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
The IAC conference attracted more than 20,000 researchers, doctors, activists, government officials, for and not-for-profit/NGO organizations from around the world for a week of science and strategy sessions on the global pandemic that has killed 25 million people since 1981.
Experts were echoing the need for a National AIDS strategy to bring the same kind of attention to the domestic epidemic that the US provides overseas, as well as an annual commitment of $1.3 billion to HIV prevention needed to mitigate the AIDS epidemic.
Bill Clinton, during his presentation on 'Health System Reform; Achieving Universal Coverage,' described HIV/AIDS - as follows - adeptly illustrating the difficulties navigating the HIV/AIDS complexities in search of solutions to fight the epidemic.
'The mythological dragon was slain by St. George, the original knight in shining armor. But this dragon must be slain instead by millions and millions of foot soldiers. Universal Action Now calls on all of us to make the best use of the weapons at our disposal.'
Mr. Clinton recited some of his foundation's accomplishments, including lowering the cost of certain AIDS treatments for poor children to $60 a year from the $600 they cost three years ago, as well as the 1.4 million people living with AIDS using medicines purchased under the HIV/AIDS agreements.
Yet, while there are weapons at our disposal, we need new leadership and resources to meet the goals of the 2010 deadline for Universal Access.
This requires considerable scaling up of HIV prevention, treatment and care services. While efforts have been successfully made towards HIV treatment, it is imperative to adopt efforts towards HIV prevention overall.
For example, experts cited:
- Reorient the President's Emergency Program for AIDS Relief to also include a US strategy and allocate funds for domestic HIV prevention and care initiatives
- Raise awareness and provide education about the importance of HIV screening, utilization of treatment and risk reduction
- Adopt new strategies to ensure more people are tested as part of routine medical care
- Focus on AIDS reduction with access to effective HIV prevention and treatment services especially among American minority populations
For and not-for-profit businesses have a timely opportunity to further mobilize action and their substantial resources to complement or extend existing human rights initiatives:
Cause Alignment: Select HIV/AIDS and develop an integrated education initiative for our youth and American minorities in local and global communities that represent business interests
Employee/Workplace Programs: Communicate with and educate employees who are key to productivity. Establish workplace programs as the basis for company engagement, as well as an extension to NGO and public-sector programs. With volunteerism on the rise, companies can impact their communities by engaging their workforce in local projects
Small Businesses: Small and medium-sized businesses are a growing sector employing about 80% of the worlds workforce and need to be engaged in programs that protect employees from global epidemics
Big Businesses: They have the marketing, resources and scale to reach the public at large with critical messages and research about prevention, treatment and risk reduction
Let's fill in the gaps between our administration, businesses and communities to further mitigate the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
Some useful resources and links include:
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - www.cdc.gov/
Gay Men's Health Crisis - www.gmhc.org