Washington — Top officials from the Obama administration and the U.S. Congress will welcome an estimated 25,000 delegates and media representatives on their way to the U.S. capital for the XIX International AIDS Conference July 22–27.
The White House announced July 17 that President Obama will address the conference with a video message, expressing his belief that the world is at a critical moment in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
“We can beat this disease. We can win this fight,” said President Obama in his World AIDS Day address in December 2011. “We just have to keep at it, steady, persistent — today, tomorrow, every day until we get to zero.”
In a November 2011 speech, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton expressed the belief that the emergence of an AIDS-free generation could be on the horizon. She will be among the speakers to address the conference, according to the White House announcement, and is expected to urge conference delegates to provide greater support for efforts to expand recent scientific advances in both treatment and prevention.
The International AIDS Society (IAS) — composed of more than 16,000 individuals working with the disease in some capacity — sponsors the biennial conference, the largest meeting focused solely on this disease. IAS members who have kept close watch on the advances in prevention and the search for a cure seem to concur with U.S. officials that a special moment has arrived.
“The past few years have been a scientific watershed in the life of the HIV/AIDS epidemic,” said Elly Katabira, IAS president and international chairwoman of the conference, “one that has given us the tools to potentially make major inroads into the epidemic on an unprecedented scale.”
The IAS has chosen a conference theme in sync with that aspiration: "Turning the Tide Together."
About 34 million people are believed to be infected with HIV. While the latest annual figures from 2010 show a decline in deaths and new infections, the total number of lives claimed by the epidemic over the last 30 years stands at an estimated 30 million.
Other Obama administration officials who will speak at the conference include those from the health agencies on the front lines of the effort to control the HIV/AIDS epidemic domestically and internationally. They include Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sibelius and Global AIDS Ambassador Eric Goosby.
Leading officials from the National Institutes of Health will also make presentations to the conference, outlining the scientific advances made by the research institution. Notably, they include advances in prevention, treatment outcomes and HIV diagnosis.
The United States has played a leading role in global research on the disease. In fact, government documents say the U.S. AIDS research portfolio represents the largest and most significant public investment in AIDS research in the world.
The United States Congress has played a strong supporting role in the international assistance that the nation has provided to address the epidemic globally. U.S. Senators John Kerry and Lindsey Graham and Representatives Nancy Pelosi and Barbara Lee are set to speak at a high-level session, according to an announcement from the IAS organizing committee, AIDS 2012.
Since 2004, the United States has devoted $45.7 billion to the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which assists nations experiencing the greatest suffering from HIV/AIDS, many of them in sub-Saharan Africa. The administration of President George W. Bush initially proposed the program and carried it through its first five years. The Obama administration, with congressional endorsement, has increased the level of funding.
The IAS is attracting further star power to the conference. British rocker and humanitarian Elton John is on the speakers list as the principal donor to the Elton John AIDS Foundation. Actresses Whoopi Goldberg and Sharon Stone are also making appearances.