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World AIDS Day

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December 1, 2010
Washington, DC

Remarks as prepared for delivery

Thank you Jeff. I am delighted to be here.

I want to thank Melody, Dr. Fauci, Ambassador Goosby and all of today’s panelists for their thoughtful discussion and tireless work.

I am proud to join so many advocates, care providers, people living with HIV/AIDS, and policymakers here today as we talk about where we have been and where we are going in our fight against HIV/AIDS, both here at home and around the globe.

Every year, World AIDS Day represents a special moment. It is a day to remember those we have lost to the HIV pandemic and to honor those who fight against the virus.

It is a day to celebrate the gains we have made in responding to HIV around the world. But it is also a day to look ahead with hope and purpose at the next steps we can take in our fight against HIV/AIDS.

Since the last World AIDS Day we have marked a number of significant milestones, from important advances in scientific research and a historic increase in testing across the United States, to the passage of a landmark health care bill and the launch of our first ever comprehensive national HIV/AIDS strategy.

A lot can happen in a year.

But we need to keep that momentum going.

Science must keep moving forward, prevention must reach even further and be even more effective, and people living with HIV/AIDS must continue to get the treatment and care they need.

We have come a long way. But we still have a long way to go.

In the last year, with President Obama’s leadership and the dedicated work of countless scientists, policymakers, community leaders, and people living with HIV/AIDS, we have taken some important steps forward.

We lifted the entry ban on HIV-positive travelers so there are no longer any barriers for people living with HIV who wish to visit the U.S. Now, families can be together.

The President signed a law ending the longstanding ban on most Federal funding for needle exchange programs—giving us more opportunities to stop the spread of HIV among injecting drug users.

The Department of Health and Human Services reallocated $25 million to extend care to people on state waiting lists for medication to treat HIV infection.

And in the last year, HHS has used new media to build a cutting-edge response to the HIV epidemic, targeting HIV prevention, testing, and treatment messages to the people who need them most. We are reaching out through channels like AIDS.gov to meet people where they are, to educate Americans about HIV and to reduce stigma and discrimination.

Our scientists had a good year as well.

In July, U.S. government scientists and policymakers joined our colleagues from around the world in Vienna for the International AIDS Conference, where they heard exciting news about successful trials of microbicides that may one day protect vulnerable individuals—particularly women—from HIV infections.

In that same month, NIH-led scientists have found antibodies that prevent most HIV strains from infecting human cells. There is growing optimism that we are getting closer to finding a way to stop HIV before it gains a foothold in the human body.

And a little over a week ago, NIH announced the results of a large, international study which found that HIV-negative men who have sex with men, and transgender women who have sex with men, who took a daily HIV treatment drug were significantly less likely to become infected with HIV than people who took a placebo.

The implications of this research for preventing HIV transmission in at-risk populations are truly exciting.

And one common thread that runs through all of these accomplishments is the power of investment and collaboration.

It is evident in the new health care bill we passed in March, the Affordable Care Act, which provides better and more comprehensive care to people living with HIV/AIDS and which is perhaps the most important piece of HIV/AIDS legislation since Ryan White.

And it is why, when we began working to develop the national Strategy, we started by reaching out to doctors and people living with HIV/AIDS across the county—researchers, health workers, activists, community leaders and academics as well.

Over and over again, we have seen that we make our greatest strides when we work together, guided by the most up-to-date science, sharing an understanding of the challenges we face, and building the platform to take them on.

But there’s a difference between knowing where you need to go and actually getting there. Implementation makes all the difference, and we have to get it right.

So HHS – which has a lead role in implementing the new Strategy – is working closely with our colleagues at the Departments of Housing and Urban Development, Labor, Justice, Veterans Affairs and the Social Security Administration.

Next week, all of these Departments and agencies will submit Operational Plans to the President detailing how we will implement the Strategy in 2011 and 2012.

We’ve already committed $30 million from the Affordable Care Act’s new Prevention and Public Health Fund to support new and existing HIV prevention efforts.

And we will continue working under the new law to provide better and more comprehensive care to people who are living with HIV/AIDS – by expanding Medicaid and creating a new health care marketplace in 2014 where affordable coverage will be available and plans will be forbidden from denying people coverage based on a medical condition.

In addition, benefits under the AIDS Drug Assistance Program will be considered as contributions toward Medicare Part D’s true out-of-pocket spending limit, a huge relief for low-income individuals living with HIV/AIDS.

But having insurance doesn’t help if you can’t get a doctor.

So the new law also makes a major investment in our health care workforce, with a specific focus on getting more doctors and nurses in underserved communities and making sure they have the cultural competency to communicate with their patients.

We’re doing all of this with the support and guidance of health care providers, community organizations, patients and advocates who bring the experience and perspective that is absolutely essential for this work to take root and thrive.

You can see this coordination across the Department and with local partners in our “HHS 12 City Project,” an innovative effort to support comprehensive planning and cross-agency response in 12 communities hit hardest by HIV and AIDS.

At this program’s very core is the idea highlighted in the new National Strategy – that by concentrating resources where the epidemic is most severe, we can make a significant impact.

Together with these local grantees, representing 44 percent of the HIV epidemic in this country, we will be able to support coordinated planning, mapping federal resources in each jurisdiction and assessing how HIV resources and services are distributed.

This is an exciting opportunity to take the best science, medicine, and behavioral information we have and use it to make a real difference for people living with, or at risk for, HIV and AIDS.

The lessons we learn from these 12 cities will be disseminated across the U.S. to keep improving and refining our response to HIV/AIDS. And it’s just one of many innovative steps we are taking today that will pay off in the long-term.

It has been 23 years since the first World AIDS Day. And this year, we have many reasons to be optimistic. But none of it would be possible without all of you here today, and countless people around the globe who have made this fight their cause.

When he introduced the strategy, President Obama said that its success will require everyone’s commitment and everyone’s participation.

Today, we have a roadmap. Now, we must go forward together.