The Obama administration unveiled on Thursday a “blueprint” for confronting the global AIDS epidemic that includes as one of its goals targeting populations that are most vulnerable to HIV/AIDS — including men who have sex with men.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton touted the plan during a ceremony at the State Department as a tool to achieve the vision of an “AIDS-free generation” that she previously articulated a year ago.
“Now, make no mistake about it: HIV may well be with us into the future,” Clinton said. “But the disease that it causes need not be. We can reach a point where virtually no children are born with the virus, and as these children become teenagers and adults, they are at a far lower risk of becoming infected than they are today. And if they do acquire HIV, they have access to treatment that helps prevent them from not only from developing AIDS, but from passing the virus on to others.”
The blueprint seeks to advance the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, which was started under former President George W. Bush. Among the five goals listed in the blueprint is “going where the virus is” to seek out populations that are most at-risk for contracting HIV/AIDS, including people who inject drugs, sex workers, those trafficked into prostitution — as well as men who have sex with men.
The plan offers statistics on the prevalence of HIV/AIDS infection in the LGBT community overseas:
In certain studies, HIV prevalence among MSM has been found to be as high as 25% in Ghana, 30% in Jamaica, 43% in coastal Kenya and 25% in Thailand. Among transgender people, HIV prevalence is thought to be even higher. Data presented at the 2008 International AIDS Conference in Mexico showed HIV prevalence of over 25% among transgender people in three Latin American countries and prevalence ranging from 10% to 42% in five Asian countries.
Other goals outlined within the blueprint are boosting prevention and treatment through methods such as condom distribution and male circumcision; promoting sustainability, efficiency and effectiveness, such as through the distribution of generic drugs; encouraging financial contributions from other countries facing the HIV/AIDS epidemic; and employing science-based efforts to guide efforts.
During the 19th International AIDS Conference in July in D.C., Clinton announced she had directed U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator Eric Goosby to develop the “blueprint” in time for World AIDS Day this year.
HIV/AIDS experts had varying reactions to the plan, although generally they were pleased that the U.S. government is taking an additional step forward in confronting the global epidemic.
Kenneth Mayer, co-chair of the IDSA Center for Global Health Policy’s Scientific Advisory Committee, praised the study for including concrete data to illustrate what must be done to achieve an “AIDS-free generation.”
“We are especially encouraged that the blueprint provides concrete numbers in affected countries to illustrate the work that must be done to reach a tipping point, when the numbers of people becoming infected with HIV are surpassed by the numbers receiving life-saving medicine,” Mayer said.
But Michael Weinstein, president of AIDS Healthcare Foundation, called the blueprint “mostly more talk and spin by the Obama administration” in the way it handles the epidemic.
“There are some generic pledges in the plan to scale-up testing and treatment, but the blueprint does not offer concrete plans of how we will actually get there,” Weinstein said.
Among the issues cited by Weinstein is a pledge to “work toward the elimination of new HIV infections among children by 2015 and keeping their mothers alive” without providing details on how to get there and having no plan for drug pricing.
Nonetheless, Clinton said during her address that she expects the blueprint to serve as a starting point for future U.S. leaders in their efforts against the epidemic.
“So with this blueprint, I firmly believe we have laid out a plan that every American president and secretary and Congress will want to build on,” Clinton said. “And I urge other countries to develop their own blueprints, because to reach an AIDS-free generation, we have to keep moving forward.”