AIDS 2012 Regional Session on US and Canada
July 25, 2012
Thank you for those kind words. Over the last 3 years, it has been an honor to work closely with Minister Aglukkaq on some of the most urgent health challenges affecting our nations -- from H1N1 to the Avian Flu.
Now it’s great to be here to discuss one of the biggest challenges facing both Canada and the United States.
We have both seen a lot of progress in the fight against HIV/AIDS. But we also know there is a lot more work to be done. In particular, both the US and Canada continue to see very high infection rates among certain groups. In the US, we are even seeing rates rise among certain groups, such as young gay and bisexual men.
This is unacceptable. So in the US, we finally did two years ago what we have always asked of others when we support them through PEPFAR – develop a comprehensive National Strategy.
And so this National Strategy was guided by a number of key principles.
First, we recognized the need to fill key gaps at every point along the treatment cascade.
For example, we know that it is not enough to simply make testing and treatment available and then tell people to “go get it.” If it was, we wouldn’t have 200,000 people with HIV who don’t know their status, another 200,000 who know their status but haven’t been linked with care, and another 250,000 on top of that who haven’t been retained in care. Out of 1.1 million Americans living with HIV/AIDS that is a big portion slipping through the cracks. And we know we can do better.
So we’re supporting programs that build strong linkages at every step along the way from testing and care to treatment.
For example, I recently visited an organization called Community Education Group that’s getting impressive results with a new approach to HIV testing and treatment. Instead of just handing patients a referral slip when they get a positive result, they immediately schedule a doctor’s appointment for sometime in the next day. Then they provide transportation for the first five visits.
Nationally, our linkage to care rate is just 77 percent. We need to scale up the proven practices that help close that gap between testing and treatment.
A second principle we’re following is to take these proven approaches to the communities that have been hardest hit. Already, we’ve made key changes in how we distribute funds to health departments for prevention, moving to a new formula that better reflects the needs of today.
And we’re building on programs where we have already seen progress. For example, we’ve worked over many years with America’s Tribal Nations to address HIV/AIDS’ disproportionate impact among American Indians and Alaska Natives. Due to health disparities, not only are they more likely to be HIV positive than others, but they also have the shortest survival after diagnoses of any racial or ethnic group.
To combat these trends, we’ve worked closely with tribal leaders and health providers to increase screening. Over the last 8 years, HIV screening rates have more than tripled. And over the last 5 years, the prenatal HIV screening rate has risen from 65 percent to 80 percent across the entire Indian Health Service. But this effort reaches beyond screening with more than 100 projects taking place across Indian Country from telehealth initiatives to clinician training to precise data collection. Our goal is to identify the most effective programs and bring them to the communities with the greatest need.
A third priority has been to support and expand public-private collaboration.
In my speech on Sunday, I announced a number of exciting new partnerships. They include one where we’ve come together with the eight largest AIDS drug companies to create a single application form for AIDS medications offered through their patient assistance programs. This application will make it far easier for patients to get their life-saving drugs. And all eight companies have agreed to begin accepting the form starting September 1st.
We hope this model will create the foundation for even more partnerships to come.
Now, there is a fourth principle that we don’t always talk about, but it’s just as important. And that is finding new ways for our countries to work together.
The United States and Canada are not the same. But we have a lot in common and there is so much that we can learn from each other -- whether it’s about the latest scientific research or the best educational approach for underserved communities.
We’re used to reaching out to each other during pandemics and other times of crises. But the strong collaboration between our nations shouldn’t end there. That’s why sessions like this, where we can bring our brightest minds together, are so important.
There are still big challenges on the horizon for us both. And we are far more likely to find the solutions we need, if we go forward together.