US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared an AIDS-free generation a US priority Tuesday, saying such a “historic” goal can be met by combining prevention strategies worldwide.
“This, I admit, is an ambitious goal, and I recognize that I am not the first person to envision it,” Clinton said in a speech at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland.
“But creating an AIDS-free generation has never been a policy priority for the United States government — until today,” Clinton added.
Clinton said such a generation would be one where virtually no children are born with the HIV virus that causes AIDS.
And it means that these children, as they grow into teenagers and adults, will be at far lower risk of becoming infected than they are today because “of a wide range of prevention tools,” the chief US diplomat said.
If they are infected, they will gain access to treatment that helps prevent them from developing the disease and “passing the virus on to others,” she said.
US support for fighting AIDS worldwide has “helped set the stage for a historic opportunity, one that the world has today to change the course of this pandemic and usher in an AIDS-free generation.”
Clinton said an “AIDS-free generation” can by achieved by ending mother-to-child transmission, expanding voluntary medical male circumcision, and increasing treatment of people living with the virus or the disease.
She said there no longer needs to be a debate over whether to focus efforts on treatment or prevention because it is now known that treatment helps boost prevention.
For example, based on US government-funded research published a few months ago, “we now know that if you treat a person living with HIV effectively, you reduce the risk of transmission to a partner by 96 percent,” Clinton said.
She said it was also important to prevent mothers from transmitting HIV to her child.
“One in seven new infections occurs when the mother passes the virus to her child. We can get that number to zero… and we can save mothers’ lives, too,” Clinton said.
Meanwhile, if men voluntarily get medically circumcised, they can reduce the risk of female-to-male transmission by more than 60 percent.
Since 2007, about one million men worldwide have been circumcised for HIV prevention, she said.
“Right now, more people are becoming infected every year than are starting treatment. We can reverse this trend,” she said.
“Mathematical models show that scaling up combination prevention to realistic levels in high-prevalence countries would drive down the worldwide rate of new infections by at least 40 to 60 percent,” she said.
“That’s on top of the 25 percent drop we’ve already seen in the past decade,” she said.
Insisting on the futility of Washington dictating solutions, Clinton said US partner governments, non-government organizations and faith-based organizations “need to own and lead their nation’s response.”
In 2009, more than 33 million people were living with HIV and 2.6 million people became newly infected.