|Children's AIDS Fund|
2011 World AIDS Day Reception, Washington D.C. remarks from Anita Smith, CAF President
Congressmen Franks and McDermott, Congresswoman Lee, Mr. Purdy, Mr. Corbett, Ms. Chester and Ms. Bresch, ladies and gentlemen. It is an honor to participate in this reception and exhibit sponsored by the Congressional HIV/AIDS Caucus and World AIDS Institute.
On World AIDS Day 2011 we gather under the global theme "Getting to Zero," 30 years after the first cases of AIDS were reported. I remember the first World AIDS Day in 1988 and working on World AIDS Day committees in the 1990s focusing on themes such as: Communication; Youth; AIDS and the Family; Children Living in a World with AIDS; One World, One Hope. In those days no one dared believe that hope could become reality where we would see a day when this year's theme "Getting to Zero" would ever be possible, much less realistic.
In those days the goal was to raise awareness about the growing epidemic, garner public support and raise funds to fight what was clearly a disease that would claim too many young, vibrant lives. There was no treatment, just the hint of an understanding about how to begin to alleviate symptoms of some opportunistic infections. Today, there are more than 30 HIV drugs already approved by the FDA, with 100 more being tested; and more than 390 infectious disease medications and vaccines either approved or in testing that treat HIV-related conditions and opportunistic infections. In 2011 not only can we address disease symptoms, we can more importantly slow virus replication and allow HIV infected individuals to live with a chronic illness rather than a 100% fatal disease.
When we began our work no one was on treatment. Today, according the UNAIDS, nearly 50% of all people eligible for HIV treatment globally now have access to treatment. The Children's AIDS Fund has been privileged under the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief to help provide treatment and care for more than 50,000 patients in sub-Saharan Africa. In the U.S. just 28% of the nation's estimated 1.2 million HIV infected individuals are on treatment, with 28% of them not tested for HIV, and 60% of those who enter care drop out. Clearly here at home we have critical work to do in this area.
In the late 1980s when we talked about HIV impacted children - those who would be orphaned - people looked at us as if we were crazy since the focus was simply on HIV infected children, how to treat them and their mothers, as well as to understand how to keep mothers from passing it to their children. When the Children's AIDS Fund provided holiday gifts for HIV impacted U.S. children, one mother sent very specific gift requests for her four infected daughters and beside the fifth daughter's name wrote, "give her anything. . .she feels left out because she is not HIV." Today, mother-to-child transmission has essentially been eliminated in the U.S. and globally nearly 50% of pregnant women living with HIV received ARVs to prevent transmitting the virus to their child. A world in which no child is born with HIV is an achievable goal.
In those days when I received a call from a young mother in rural Missouri who had just learned she was HIV positive, there was little I could do except listen, counsel her and work with her until I could locate someone at the State Health Department or another institution who knew about HIV and would accept her into clinical care. Today, nearly anywhere in the world individuals who receive a positive diagnosis have at least one accessible and reliable source of treatment, care and counseling.
Early in the pandemic the number of new infections, prevalence and incidence went in just one direction-up. Today, according to UNAIDS, a total of 21 countries out of 24 reporting are seeing declines. In the U.S. our numbers have remained somewhat constant over the past decade, between 40,000 and 50,000 new infections a year. We need to do better.
So, on this World AIDS Day we gather first to remember the millions we personally and collectively lost who were claimed by HIV/AIDS. Second, we gather to commemorate the scientific, clinical and care advances that have brought us to this day when we can boldly uphold the banner of "Getting to Zero." And third, we commit ourselves to making that theme reality.
It can be done IF we honor the goals and follow the leadership of this bipartisan Congressional Caucus. My husband, Shepherd, and I founded the Children's AIDS Fund 25 years ago. Since that time we've worked with both sides of the aisle, and seen progress when people cooperate and collaborate for the common goal of fighting HIV/AIDS instead of each other. That is the foundation for all the accomplishments between then and now that we've just reflected on. And working together means joining hands with the faith community and utilizing its vast resources in this Herculean battle.
We stand at a critical point in the pandemic, where the scientific, human and resource investments of the past 30 years can actually continue the existing momentum toward zero new infections. In the previous Administration it was my privilege to serve as co-chair of the President's Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS. Our final bi-partisan report to President Bush was titled: Achieving an HIV-Free Generation: Recommendations for a New American HIV Strategy. It laid out very specific steps that we as a nation should take if we were serious about winning the war against HIV/AIDS both at home and around the world. It has been gratifying to see that the Obama Administration has followed through on many of those steps, including developing a U.S. national HIV strategy. And just last month Secretary Clinton outlined her vision of how to create an AIDS-Free Generation.
We can and will reach the goal of zero new infections-an AIDS-Free Generation-provided that we work together for the common goal; in the face of the current economic crisis we need to creatively find ways to effectively and efficiently provide long-term quality care to more individuals with static or even fewer resources; learn the lessons of 30 years of experience and explore means of being flexible in program implementation rather than entrenched in our old, established ways.
If we do these things and more, at one point in the not too distant future, we will be able to commemorate World AIDS Days with the theme: We Did It!
|The Children's AIDS Fund (CAF) works to limit suffering of children and their families caused by HIV disease by providing care, services, resources, referrals, and education. This document has been reprinted from the Children's AIDS Fund website, www.childrensaidsfund.org. Contact CAF at email@example.com.
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