Twenty-five years after observing the first World AIDS Day, we find ourselves at a turning point in the ongoing struggle against this devastating disease. On one hand, AIDS remains a significant public health challenge here at home and abroad. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that more than 35.3 million people around the world are currently living with HIV, with an estimated 2.3 million people newly infected in 2012 alone.
However, thanks to scientific advancements and the tireless dedication of countless individuals, an AIDS-free generation is truly within our grasp. Between increasing access to treatment and reducing new HIV infections, it is suggested that we could achieve the beginning of the end of AIDS as early as 2015. In fact, 16 African countries have already surpassed the tipping point of their epidemics, with more new patients receiving treatment than the annual number of new HIV infections.
While the annual number of new HIV infections in the United States has remained relatively stable in recent years, the pace of new infections continues to be significantly high, particularly for certain groups. Men who have sex with men (MSM) bear the greatest burden of HIV infection, while African Americans, Hispanics/Latinos, and young people are disproportionately impacted. Furthermore, only about one in three individuals living with HIV is receiving anti-retroviral treatment, and fewer still are able to adhere to their treatment and sustain undetectable viral loads.
Achieving the beginning of the end of AIDS will take a renewed commitment to expanding access to testing, treatment, and care, as well as to raising public awareness. On November 19, 2013, the U.S. House of Representatives passed under suspension of the rules S. 1545, the PEPFAR Stewardship and Oversight Act of 2013. PEPFAR, the ‘President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief,’ is now in its tenth year of successfully saving millions of lives. In 2012, approximately 5.1 million people received treatment through this vitally important program, and more than 46.5 million people in total have received testing and counseling thanks to PEPFAR.
In the 113th Congress, we still have a duty to continue to support robust funding for PEPFAR and the Global Fund, the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program, AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP), Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS (HOPWA) Program, Minority HIV/AIDS Initiative, and National AIDS Strategy, as well as HIV/AIDS research.
As we mark the 25th annual World AIDS Day, we have the knowledge and resources to make a world without AIDS a reality. Ultimately, bringing an end to AIDS will require greater leadership and coordination in order to increase support for the implementation of effective treatment and prevention programs. Therefore, it is especially critical that we address sequestration, which is hampering HIV care in the United States at a time when the number of AIDS patients is increasing.
Congressman Hastings is a staunch advocate for the HIV/AIDS community and a member of the Congressional HIV/AIDS Caucus.