Former President Bill Clinton on Friday called for a more effective use of resources in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
“We need a new level of openness about how every last dollar is spent by countries, by governments, by NGOs,” he said during the International AIDS Conference’s closing session at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.
The Clinton Health Access Initiative through the former president’s foundation in 2010 announced a partnership with the South African government to expand access to HIV testing and antiretroviral treatment. More than 400,000 additional South Africans with HIV had received these drugs within a year of the program’s inception. Clinton further pointed out that the initiative has saved the country roughly $700 million over the last two years.
A CHAI and Center for Global Development study of more than 100 health facilities in Ethiopia, Malawi, Rwanda and Zambia in 2011 found it cost an average of $200 — $682 annually in South Africa because of higher health and labor costs — a year to treat a person with HIV. A President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief analysis that was released during the 2010 International AIDS Conference in Vienna placed this figure at $880 a year.
The World Health Organization estimated that 5.2 million of the 15 million people with HIV globally received treatment at the end of 2009. “There is no excuse for failing to provide treatment for the remaining 10 million people in need,” said Clinton, referring to the goal of universal access by 2015.
The international HIV/AIDS community also seeks to virtually eliminate mother-to-child transmissions — Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Monday announced that the U.S. government would pledge an additional $80 million to achieve this benchmark as part of a broader $157 million pledge towards what she described as an AIDS-free generation. They have also pledged to reduce new HIV infection rates by 50 percent over the next three years.
The former president acknowledged that the global financial crisis has adversely affected the amount of money that donor countries can give — although he noted that the United Kingdom and Ireland are among those that continue to contribute inspire of austerity measures. He further pointed to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and other private foundations and donors that have increased their support of global HIV/AIDS efforts in recent years.
“There’s an enormous amount of private money being raised and spent and there will be more,” said Clinton. “Governments, even in this difficult time, I believe will do more if we prove we’re maximizing the amount of money they have given.”
The former president noted only slightly more than a quarter of the 1.2 million Americans living with HIV “are getting optimum care.” He further cited statistics that new infection rates among young gay men — and particularly among black men under 30 who have sex with men continue to rise. Clinton also spoke about the epidemic’s continued impact on Latinos, Native Americans, Asians and Pacific Islanders.
“Many of them feel that because of the overall progress made in the fight against AIDS, they’re just going to be left out and left behind,” he said.
Clinton also applauded D.C. for efforts to fight HIV. These include the distribution of more than five million male and female condoms last year and a 72 percent decrease in HIV rates among intravenous drug users between 2007 and 2010. Mayor Vincent Gray reiterated at the AIDS Memorial Quilt on the National Mall on Sunday that no baby has been born with HIV in the city since 2009.
“In this city, government and community leadership has been reinvigorated,” said Clinton. “They are making a different.”
Pelosi: We have an obligation to continue HIV/AIDS fight
In a separate speech, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) recalled the epidemic’s early impact in San Francisco.
“It was 31 years ago when we first heard in our community that doctors at UCSF (University of California-San Francisco) were seeing unlike anything they’d seen before, symptoms that harkened back to the Middle Ages,” she said. “Many of you could tell this same story. Quickly, AIDS began to take a terrible toll. Soon, we were going to as many as two funerals a day. Quickly we know that this was an emergency and that we had to pull out all the stops.”
Pelosi’s first speech in Congress after she arrived on Capitol Hill in 1987 was about AIDS. She said that some of her fellow lawmakers questioned why she decided to speak about the issue.
“I said: ‘I said it because that’s what I came here to do,’” recalled Pelosi. “But recognize that was the sign of the times in Washington, D.C.”
She said she and other San Franciscans saw themselves at the center of the epidemic.
“We were ground zero, as we saw it, of the AIDS assault — on our health, on our economy and on our community; on the lives of our dear friends,” said Pelosi, who later sewed a patch on the AIDS Memorial Quilt in memory of the flower girl at her wedding who lost her battle to the disease. “With death, denial, and discrimination against those with the disease, AIDS was not only a challenge to our scientific and medical professionals; it was a challenge to the conscience of all of us and it remains so to this day. We knew we had to organize, not just agonize — and organize, not agonize, and organize not agonize we did.”
She specifically cited California Congressman Henry Waxman and the late-Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy for their efforts to secure passage of the Ryan White Care Act in 1990. Pelosi praised Clinton and former President George W. Bush for their commitment to the fight against the global AIDS epidemic. And she applauded President Obama for both signing the health care reform bill and repealing the travel ban for people with the virus.
“On the brink of the AIDS-free generation, we must carry on with determination, hope, and courage,” said Pelosi. “Courage is one of the defining qualities that we always must bring to this. In doing so, we will succeed in turning the tide together. Thank all of you, to every one of you for your leadership, your activism, for your commitment to ending HIV/AIDS once and for all.”