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Obama crafts first national strategy to fight HIV/AIDS

The Obama administration is set to unveil America's first HIV/AIDS strategy on Tuesday. It includes no new funding, but redirects dollars toward the most at-risk and affected groups.

By Staff writer / July 13, 2010

President Barack Obama, listens as Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius speaks during a town hall meeting on the Affordable Care Act, June 8, at the Holiday Park Multipurpose Senior Center in Wheaton, Md. The Obama administration will unveil the first national HIV/AIDS strategy Tuesday.

Alex Brandon/AP

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Washington

The Obama administration will unveil the first national HIV/AIDS strategy Tuesday. The goal is to reduce the number of new infections and boost access to care for those already infected, an administration report says.

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Perhaps most noteworthy, in these tough budgetary times, is that the plan does not propose a major increase in federal funding. The United States already spends $19 billion annually on domestic HIV/AIDS programs, and President Obama’s plan seeks to redirect dollars toward the most at-risk and affected groups – gay and bisexual men and African-Americans.

“The National HIV/AIDS Strategy is committed to making the United States a place where new HIV infections are rare, and when they do occur, every person, regardless of age, gender, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, or socio-economic circumstance, will have unfettered access to high-quality, life-extending care, free from stigma and discrimination,” the White House stated Monday.

Mr. Obama will discuss the strategy late Tuesday afternoon at a reception honoring the work of the HIV/AIDS community. Earlier in the day, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and several other senior administration officials will unveil the goals and details of the plan.

Among the goals, the administration is calling for a 25 percent reduction in the annual number of new HIV infections by 2015. One way to do that is to boost the percentage of HIV-positive people who know their diagnosis, so they can receive treatment and takes steps not to infect other people, according to an administration report circulating in advance of Tuesday’s events.

Currently, 79 percent of infected people are aware of their status; the administration’s goal is to reach 90 percent. More than 1.1 million Americans were estimated to be living with HIV in 2006, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The administration also seeks to boost the proportion of patients linked to clinical care within three months of HIV diagnosis from 65 percent to 85 percent by 2015.

And it seeks to revive public interest in AIDS as an issue. Because AIDS has become increasingly treatable, the sense of urgency has waned, the report says. This need for greater public attention is particularly true for the communities hit hardest, activists say.

“HIV/AIDS as an epidemic has fallen off the radar screen,” Andy Izquierdo of the National Minority AIDS Council told the Kaiser Health News Service. “A lot of people don’t see it as an issue anymore, even though it’s hitting some communities of color worse than ever.”

Overall, the administration is aiming for greater national coordination of the various local, state, and federal efforts to educate the public about HIV/AIDS, help patients find treatment, and direct resources to those hardest-hit communities.

AIDS activists have long urged a national, comprehensive approach to addressing the pandemic, noting that the US government requires other countries to present such a plan to receive US aid. In 2003, President George W. Bush launched PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, with a five-year, $15 billion commitment to fight the disease globally.

On July 8, Secretary Sebelius announced a reallocation of $25 million in HHS funds to states for patients on waiting lists to receive HIV/AIDS drugs. Advocates said the money is not enough, given the high unemployment rate and loss of health insurance, in addition to cuts in state budgets.

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