With an international audience watching through a live Internet broadcast, President Barack Obama included mention of the high HIV infection rate among black gay men in the United States in a World AIDS Day speech on Thursday at George Washington University.
“Today is a remarkable day,” he said. “Today we come together as a global community, across continents, across faiths and cultures, to renew our commitment to ending the AIDS pandemic once and for all.
“But the fight is not over – not by a long shot,” he said. “The rate of new infections may be going down elsewhere, but it’s not going down here in America. The infection rate here has been holding steady for over a decade.”
He added, “When new infections among young black gay men increase by nearly 50 percent in 3 years, we need to do more to show them that their lives matter.”
The president spoke at an internationally broadcast World AIDS Day event sponsored by ONE, a global grassroots organization dedicated to fighting poverty and disease; and (RED), an organization of businesses and corporations that raises money for the United Nations Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
Joining Obama at the event through a satellite hookup was former President George W. Bush, who spoke from Tanzania, African, along with Tanzanian President Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete; and former President Bill Clinton, who also spoke via satellite transmission.
The gathering in Washington took place in an auditorium on the George Washington University campus a few blocks from the White House.
After Obama spoke, CNN medical editor and physician Sanjay Gupta moderated a panel discussion that included U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.); Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.); lead singer of the rock group U2 Bono, who co-founded the groups ONE and (RED); and artist and co-founder of the group Keep the Children Alive, Alicia Keys.
Also speaking on the panel were Dr. Patricia Nkansah-Asamoah, director of the PTCT Clinic at Tema Hospital in Accra, Ghana; Florence Ngobeni, HIV educator and Ambassador for the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation; and Elizabeth K. “Kay” Warren, founder of the HIV & AIDS Initiative of Saddleback Church, and wife of well-known pastor, Rick Warren.
The panelists, including Rubio and Lee, who often are at odds with each other on partisan political matters, each pledged to work cooperatively in a bipartisan fashion to seek an end to the AIDS epidemic.
Bush and Clinton expressed praise for one another on the AIDS front. And Clinton and Obama each praised Bush for starting the highly acclaimed U.S. global AIDS assistance program known as PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. The program, under Bush and now under Obama, has been credited with saving the lives of millions of HIV infected people in Africa by providing the financing and delivery of life-saving AIDS drugs to countries that can’t afford the drugs.
Obama announced in his speech that his administration is “committing an additional $15 million for the Ryan White program that supports care provided by HIV medical clinics across the country.” He said he was also committing an additional $35 million for the AIDS Drug Assistance Program, or ADAP, a part of the Ryan White CARE Act that helps states pay for AIDS drugs for patients who don’t have medical insurance or whose insurance is insufficient to pay for the drugs.
“The federal government can’t do this alone,” he said in discussing the ADAP program. “So I’m also calling on state governments, and pharmaceutical companies, and private foundations to do their part to help Americans geet access to all the life-saving treatments.”