US secretary of state Hillary Clinton pledged at first international Aids conference in America for two decades that the Obama administration would do whatever it takes to end the HIV epidemic.
“I’m here to make it absolutely clear that the US is committed and will remain committed to achieving an Aids-free generation. We will not back off and we will not back down. We will fight for the resources necessary to achieve this historic milestone,” she told a packed plenary session of the 25,000 delegate-strong conference in Washington, DC.
Clinton said she had commissioned Dr Eric Goosby, America’s global Aids co-ordinator, to produce a blueprint for the way ahead. Scientists and experts at the conference say that scaling up the rollout of Aids drugs to all the 15 million people who need them can not only keep people alive but reduce the chances they will infect others, slowing the spread of the virus.
Other prevention efforts – and maybe eventually a vaccine – could reduce transmission to the point where the epidemic is effectively at an end.
Clinton announced new money for several initiatives, including $40m for South Africa’s plans to provide voluntary male circumcision for almost half a million young men and boys in the coming year. Studies have shown circumcision reduces men’s chances of infection.
There will also be an investment of $80 million to support innovative approaches to ensure HIV positive pregnant women get the treatment they need, which will prevent their babies being born with the virus.
Clinton said she was particularly concerned to highlight the plight of women. “In sub-Saharan Africa, women account for 60% of those living with HIV, and they want access to adequate healthcare. We want to answer their call,” she said.
These women – and all women – should have access to contraception so they can decide for themselves whether to have any or more children, said Clinton, applauding the recent family planning conference in London, which drew attention to their needs and raised $2.6bn to provide contraception for 120 million women and girls.
“Every woman should be able to decide when and whether to have children. This is true whether she is HIV-positive or not,” she told the conference. “There should be no controversy about this. None at all.”
But she also spoke of the need to help sex workers and people who use injecting drugs – groups who have not been allowed to have visas to enter the United States, triggering demonstrations and protests at the conference. Sex workers are holding their own conference in Kolkata instead, which has been given “hub” status by the International Aids Society, which organised the Washington event.
Clinton avoided any mention of their exclusion from America, but told the conference it was vital that their needs be addressed. Over the years she had experienced how difficult it can be to talk about a disease that is transmitted through sex and drugs, she said. “We can’t afford to avoid sensitive conversations and we can’t fail to reach those who are at highest risk,” she said.