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Health prevention : Obama to roll out new AIDS strategy

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President Barack Obama will Tuesday declare that America’s battle against AIDS is at a “crossroads” and roll out a plan to cut new infections and improve care for those who have the disease.

Thirty years after the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) burst to global attention, the first-ever National HIV/AIDS Strategy will demand action from federal, state and tribal governments and medical and scientific communities. It envisages cutting the annual number of new domestic infections by 25 percent over five years, and aims to increase the number of people living with HIV, who actually know their status to 90 percent.

The strategy, previewed by the White House on Monday, will say in a vision statement that “the United States will become a place where new HIV infections are rare.” Those who are infected, regardless of age, gender, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity or economic level, will get “unfettered access to high-quality, life-extending care, free from stigma and discrimination.”

The HIV/AIDS epidemic in the United States has claimed nearly 600,000 lives, though has faded from the headlines in recent years, as new life-extending anti-retroviral drug therapies have emerged.

But around 56,000 people still become infected with HIV every year. There are currently 1.1 million Americans living with HIV, according to US government figures.

The new Obama strategy has three goals: to reduce the number of new infections; to increase access to care for those with HIV; and to reduce HIV-related health disparities. “Our country is at a crossroads. Right now we are experiencing a domestic epidemic that demands a renewed commitment, increased public attention and leadership,” Obama said in the preamble to the new national strategy.

Obama said that countless Americans had devoted their lives to fighting HIV/AIDS and that successful prevention efforts had averted more than 350,000 new infections in the United States. “This moment represents an opportunity for our nation. Now is the time to build on and refocus our existing efforts to deliver better results for the American people.”

The new strategy recognizes the tight fiscal straitjacket under which the administration is operating, after the worst financial crisis in decades. It does not lay out an increase on the current 19 billion dollars a year the government spends to fight HIV/AIDS within the United States.

Rather, the strategy states that better results should be possible to achieve within existing funding levels and says the case for additional investments where they are required should be highlighted.

Obama will on Tuesday discuss the new strategy at a White House reception honoring members of the HIV/AIDS community while his top health officials will also provide details.

The new strategy, laying out the philosophical grounding for the fight against AIDS, will be accompanied by a Federal Implementation Strategy.

The strategy is designed to intensify HIV prevention efforts in most at risk communities, including gay and bisexual men, African American men and women, the Latino community, addicts and drug users. It also envisages improving the education of all Americans about HIV/AIDS and how to prevent the spread of the disease.

The administration also plans to use the new Obama health care reform plan passed this year as a platform for expanding treatment of HIV/AIDS for the most vulnerable communities.

Obama announced in October that his administration would end a ban on people with HIV/AIDS traveling to the United States, which rights groups had branded discriminatory and harmful.

The measure came into force in January.

The United States has also contributed tens of billions of dollars for HIV/AIDS relief around the world, with the President’s Plan for Emergency AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) — one of the most lauded legacy achievements of former president George W. Bush.

Washington, July 12, 2010 (AFP)