President Obama, who’s been under pressure from AIDS advocacy groups to do more to help patients with the virus, announced new funding for treating Americans on Thursday and said the U.S. would try to reach two million more patients overseas.
Obama said the goal would be to treat 6 million people infected with the human immunodeficiency virus that causes AIDS - a 50 percent increase over the current goal of 4 million. Officials said this wouldn't come through higher spending but rather through making the program more efficient.
"In the area of treatment, President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) has driven down its cost per year per patient on treatment from over $1100 to $335 in FY 2011," the White House said in a statement.
"This translates into more lives being saved, and this continued focus on lowering costs and finding efficiencies will allow us to achieve these ambitious targets with existing resources."
AIDS infects about 34 million people globally, according to the United Nations, and has killed close to 30 million. There is no vaccine and no cure for the virus but drugs can control the infection and keep people healthy. And recent research shows that treating people can also help keep them from infecting others. so advocates and the Obama administration are now embracing a philosophy of treatment as prevention.
In the United States, where the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 1.2 million people have HIV, 6,500 are on waiting lists for these drugs. Obama said he'd raise spending for domestic treatment programs by $50 million.
“We’re committing an additional $15 million for the Ryan White program that supports care provided by HIV medical clinics across the country. Let’s keep their doors open so they can keep saving lives. And we’re committing an additional $35 million for state AIDS Drug Assistance Programs,” Obama said in a speech in Washington.
The White House says the new overseas initiatives will also aim to deliver drugs 1.5 million infected pregnant women to protect their newborns from HIV; distribute 1 billion condoms over the next two years; and pay for 4.7 million men to be circumcised in eastern and southern Africa over the next two years. Research has shown that men who are circumcised are less likely to become infected.
Former president George W. Bush addressed the audience via satellite from Tanzania, a country that has greatly benefited from PEPFAR, which Bush initiated.
"We are a blessed nation in the United States of America, and I believe we are required to support effective programs that save lives," Bush said.
Obama called Bush's policy on AIDS one of his "greatest legacies." Obama and Bush were joined by former president Bill Clinton and other global advocates for AIDS relief including singer Bono.
Last month, the U.N said deaths from AIDS are slowing. But the CDC reported that three-fourths of U.S. HIV patients were not getting the treatment they need to stay healthy and lower the risk of infecting others.