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Remarks to a World AIDS Day Event

H R S A SpeechU.S. Department of Health & Human Services
Health Resources and Services Administration

HRSA Press Office: (301) 443-3376
http://newsroom.hrsa.gov


by HRSA Administrator Mary K. Wakefield

December 1, 2009
Rockville, Md.


Thank you, Deborah (Parham Hopson, HRSA's Associate Administrator for HIV/AIDS), and thanks to all of you for being here on this important day. We are especially pleased to welcome our keynote speaker, Dr. Vicki Cargill, and our guest panelists.

It is a particular privilege for me to be here. Almost nine months into serving as HRSA Administrator, I have been honored to speak before many diverse groups on a wide range of topics, but few are as compelling as the topic we address today.

After almost 30 years, AIDS continues to be a national and global public health crisis. According to our sister agency, the CDC, in the United States alone, more than 1 million people are living with HIV. About one in five people infected with HIV – that is more than 200,000 adults – don't even know they have the virus and may be unknowingly spreading it to others.

Every year, more than 56,000 Americans are estimated to become infected with HIV – one person every 9½ minutes. And each year, more than 14,000 Americans with HIV/AIDS will die.

Globally, the fight against AIDS has made significant progress under PEPFAR (President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) program. But the statistics are still staggering: 33 million people are living with HIV/AIDS around the world. In 2007 alone, 2.7 million were newly infected, and 2 million people lost their lives to AIDS.

Unfortunately, the level of concern about HIV/AIDS has dropped, and many no longer view it as a threat – this despite the fact that in our nation's capital, one out of 20 people is HIV-positive.

There's been a shift in urgency over the past 30 years. When Indiana teenager Ryan White contracted the virus through a blood transfusion for his hemophilia and became a national advocate for HIV awareness and compassion, the entire country knew about this new disease.

Mostly, they were frightened. At the time, that fear was translated into anger and discrimination.

Through the course of his illness, Ryan White's courage and determination during that very unsettling time gave birth to the program that Congress named for him, a program that today provides care, medications and services to more than 530,000 low-income people every year who are affected by HIV/AIDS. HRSA is proud to award more than $2 billion in grants annually to support the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program.

Just a few weeks ago, President Obama and Congress ensured that Ryan's legacy will continue by reauthorizing the Ryan White Program for four more years.

As in the past, the legislation received bipartisan support – not a common occurrence in Washington. And at President Obama's side as he signed the new legislation was Jeanne White-Ginder, Ryan's mother.

In addition to funding vital care and services for people living with HIV/AIDS, HRSA partners with other agencies in key ways. We serve on HHS' Treatment Guidelines committees that are run out of NIH, and we've also worked with NIH's National Institute of Mental Health to bring research findings to practice in the Prevention with Positives/Options project. And together with CDC, we run the CDC HRSA Advisory Council, which advises the HHS Secretary and Congress on key prevention and treatment issues.

Providing care is only part of the reason more people are living with, and not dying from, AIDS. Today's theme, “Working Together,” underscores this fact.

In addition to HRSA's contributions, other HHS operating divisions are active in the fight. Without the clinical research arm of NIH, the prevention efforts of CDC, the drug oversight of FDA, the AIDS landscape today would be much, much different.

The urgency of working together was driven home just two weeks ago when AIDS.gov, the portal for all Federal HIV/AIDS information, hosted a World AIDS Day conference call on the state of the epidemic in the U.S. and globally.

Federal HIV experts from HHS agencies participated, as well as senior White House, HHS, and State Department officials. A common theme emerged: with the leadership of President Obama, everyone is now recommitted to promoting a high-level dialogue on HIV/AIDS.

Participants shared a number of key points, including the President's three HIV/AIDS priorities:

  • Reduce HIV incidence;
  • Increase access to care and optimize health outcomes; and
  • Reduce HIV-related health disparities.

The White House is developing a National HIV/AIDS Strategy to implement these priorities, based on input from a series of community forums being held around the country.

Dr. Kevin Fenton, director of CDC's National Center for HIV, STD and TB Prevention, called for action in four important areas:

First, that all Americans know their HIV status to protect themselves and others.

Second, that we work collectively across all levels to expand evidence-based prevention programs.

Third, that we need to continue research on tools to prevent HIV.

And fourth, because HIV does not occur in a vacuum, we must confront the social determinants of HIV today, as well as complacency about HIV.

Much, much more was discussed on the call, and the transcript will be available on AIDS.gov shortly. What came across loud and clear is that agencies are hard at work – together – to address HIV/AIDS today.

Even so, we can all do more. Agencies are meeting to eliminate duplication of efforts, strengthen collaboration, and achieve greater accountability and effectiveness.

We have prioritized our national response to domestic HIV/AIDS. Using the President's National HIV/AIDS Strategy as a tool to guide us, we'll continue to expand our commitment to research, prevention and care, and address ongoing barriers to care like the stigma that is still far too often associated with this disease.

The face of AIDS has changed dramatically in our nation and across the globe. What hasn't changed is our determination to end this disease.

Today as we pause to remember family, friends and colleagues who have died of AIDS, let each of us do our part to support those who live with disease and do everything we can to prevent its spread. We thank the millions of dedicated workers who give these individuals care and hope every day. And we recommit ourselves to working together as a team in our common goal to stop this epidemic.

Thank you.