Today marks the 30 year anniversary of the recognition and pursuit of a cure concerning the AIDs epidemic, celebrated with this year’s theme of “The Beginning of the end of AIDS.”
President Obama gave a speech at the ONE Campaign and (RED)-hosted event earlier this morning with featured celebrity speakers and remarks via satellite from George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, each of whom also took steps during their presidencies to find a cure for the disease.
“Few could have imagined that we’d be talking about the real possibility of an AIDS-free generation,” Obama told the audience. “But that’s what we’re talking about. That’s why we’re here. And we arrived here because of all of you and your unwavering belief that we can — and we will — beat this disease.”
In the United States alone, nearly 1.2 million Americans are living with HIV, with over 50,000 becoming newly infected every year. Nearly 600,000 lives have been lost in the years since the worldwide recognition of the disease.
Numbers within the United States are highest among minority groups, both among the LGBT community and the wider population. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) young African American males are the most affected, accounting for 52% of those with the disease, nearly six and a half times that of Caucasian men. Among Latino populations, males account for 79% of those infected, and the rate of new infections among Latino men is nearly two and a half times higher than that of Caucasian men.
Across the board, women as a demographic represent a lower percentage of those affected, but again, women of minority communities are more likely to have HIV than those of Caucasian populations, nearly 15 times as high as Caucasian woman and more than three times as high as that of Latina women.
“When new infections among young, black, gay men increase by nearly fifty percent in three years, we need to do more to show them that their lives matter,” said President Obama. “When Latinos are dying sooner than other groups; when black women feel forgotten even though they account for most of the new cases among women, we need to do more.” Reasons for the disparity among ethnic demographics are contestable, with sources citing a lack of education, resources, and care provided to minority communities.
During his speech, the president outlined his plans for eradicating the disease throughout the world once and for all. The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS relief (PEPFAR), which was established under the bipartisan congress of George W. Bush, has been expanded by the president to include more proactive steps.
These include lowering the cost of treatment across the board, providing lifesaving antiretroviral treatment for more than 3.9 million people, more education for prevention of mother-to-child transmission and HIV testing and counseling for more than 9.8 million pregnant women, and care and support for nearly 13 million people. Education concerning voluntary medical male circumcision and a proliferation of condoms are also a part of the President’s plan. Overall, the President has committed $50 million in increased funding for domestic HIV treatment and care, and encouraged other countries to honor their funding pledges to help in the global fight.
This week, the CDC has also launched a new initiative called “Testing Makes Us Stronger,” a campaign to educate and encourage more Americans to get tested, understanding that knowledge of the disease is the first step to preventing its spread to new individuals.
Obama ended his speech with his signature style of hope and progress (with a great deal of his speech driven by what has been accomplished since he took office.) “Keep fighting for all of them because we can end this pandemic. We can beat this disease. We can win this fight. We just have to keep at it, steady, persistent — today, tomorrow, every day until we get to zero,” he said. “And as long as I have the honor of being your President, that’s what this administration is going to keep doing. That’s my pledge. That’s my commitment to all of you. And that’s got to be our promise to each other — because we’ve come so far and we’ve saved so many lives, we might as well finish the fight.”