On this December 1, 2011, we celebrate the 23rd anniversary of World AIDS Day. I say celebrate, because we have accomplished so much in the fight against this terrible disease, particularly in the last decade. However, much more remains to be done, and I stand committed to overcoming this disease, which has killed millions worldwide.
As one who has consistently cared about human dignity and human rights, I am pleased that the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), has an established legacy of bipartisan support. PEPFAR is dedicated to saving the lives of those suffering from HIV/AIDS around the world, and it is driven by a shared responsibility among donor and partner nations and others to save lives.
The fight against HIV/AIS has been a long one. In more than 30 years, approximately 26 million people have died from AIDSe and there are 7,000 new infections every day. But our commitment to combating this disease is making important strides.
In the past decade, new HIV infections fell 25 percent in 33 countries, thanks in large part to making antiretroviral treatment available in even the remotest corners of Africa. However, while HIV/AIDS is the leading killer in Sub-Saharan Africa, and remains a focus of our PEPFAR activities, the largest regional increase in HIV prevalence is in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, particularly Russia and Ukraine.
The United States should be proud of its leadership in the fight against HIV/AIDS. We account for nearly 60 percent of the international community’s assistance, and, from 2004 to 2010 we spent more than $26 billion on bilateral funding. Dedicated government experts from an array of U.S. agencies are involved in the fight. In fact, more than 20 percent of all Peace Corps projects are currently related to HIV/AIDS.
Behind these impressive statistics are touching human stories. One woman recently visited my office from South Africa. She mentors other young mothers who learn they are HIV positive when they visit the doctor to confirm a pregnancy. She teaches them how to take their medicine to prevent transmission to their children, and offers to talk to them whenever they need support as they grapple with the initial shock, and lifelong consequences of the disease. Programs such as this are aimed at prevention, and are crucial to a healthy, stable Africa of the future. They must be strengthened and stabilized if we are going to eradicate AIDS.
World AIDS Day is a reminder of what has been lost and of the continuing fight to eradicate this disease. It also is a time to continue the important funding that is needed for HIV/AIDS programs both here, and abroad.