As we pack up and head back
to the U.S., advocates, scientists and civil servants from our country
working on HIV/AIDS are returning to a place where the empirical face
and scope of HIV has changed. While here, our own government released
HIV surveillance data confirming that our epidemic is worse than we
thought, with 40% more new infections each year than previously estimated.
That is 16,300 more Americans who became HIV positive annually.
From a numbers perspective,
it is alarming, but the rate of new infections was something experienced
by AIDS service organizations across the country during this same time
frame. For them, it is confirmation that the constant clarion
call for a real investment in stemming the epidemic was warranted and
now embarrassingly long overdue.
At the IAC, several sessions
focused on the domestic epidemic in the U.S. and many included civil
society and government, demonstrating the need for us to work together.
Dr. Fenton of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for
example, joined civil society on at least two panels and while holding
his own with great aplomb, but nonetheless was subject to our own justified
anger and outrage about the scale and lack of a strategic, comprehensive
response to our epidemic. One session was even interrupted by
advocates in a direct action to illustrate the frustration is palpable.
U.S. advocates are asking for
the creation of a National AIDS Strategy (NAS) and it was a recurrent
them in the various IAC sessions. The NAS is an important step
whose success largely hangs on the details of what such a strategy looks
like and the existence of political will to actually get it done.
Our previous experiences with such plans do not suggest optimism, but
we must insist of our leaders that the present time be different.
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My fellow co-chairs of the
Federal AIDS Policy Partnership, Gene Copello of The AIDS Institute
and Paul Kawata of the National Minority AIDS Council, and I have argued
elsewhere that the NAS must be part of a broader domestic emergency
plan on AIDS that begins at once and is comprehensive not just on talk,
but also on money. This must begin first and foremost with prevention
where the domestic prevention budget, in real dollars, has shrunk each
year since 2001.
The new data has created an
immediacy to address our domestic epidemic that is sure to take center
stage when the United States Conference on AIDS convenes in Miami on
September 18. The Caucus for Evidence-Based Prevention will be
there as well, raising our collective voices. We’ll see you