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Obama presents national HIV/AIDS strategy to mixed reviews

By WeHo News Staff, West Hollywood

July 15, 2010

"We congratulate the president and his staff at the Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP) for this achievement," said APLA Executive Director Craig E. Thompson. WeHo News.    

West Hollywood, California (July 15, 2010) - The Obama Administration released a National HIV/AIDS Strategy yesterday to mixed reviews.

The initiative enumerates a short list of major goals for the next five years, including: reducing the rate of new HIV infections, expanding access to care for all people living with HIV/AIDS, and ending the stigma and healthcare disparities that contribute to the epidemic.

Crafted by the White House Director of the Office of National AIDS Programs, Jeff Crowley, in collaboration with a broad range of community organizations and government agencies, as well as significant input from people living with HIV/AIDS.

Local AIDS institutions differed in their reactions.

AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA) offered strong support for National HIV/AIDS Strategy, calling the plan a significant step in advancing the U.S. fight against AIDS.

"We congratulate the president and his staff at the Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP) for this achievement," said APLA Executive Director Craig E. Thompson. "We have been fighting AIDS in the U.S. for thirty years and finally we have a strategic coordinated plan to help bring the epidemic to an end."

AIDS Healthcare Foundation, the nation’s largest HIV/AIDS medical care provider, dismissed the plan as vacuous.

"…[T]here is really no ‘there’ there," said Michael Weinstein, President of AHF. "This strategy is a day late and a dollar short: 15 months in the making, and the White House learned what people in the field have known for years. There is no funding, no ‘how to,’ no real leadership."

The Strategy does not call for increased funding, but instead indicates money will be redirected to areas with the greatest need and population groups at greatest risk, including gay and bisexual men and African-Americans.

Gay men currently account for over half the new infections each year.

Currently, an estimated 1.1 million people are living with HIV/AIDS in the U.S. The Strategy calls for reducing the number of new infections in the U.S. by 25 percent (down from an estimated 56,000 new infections each year); for increasing the number of newly infected individuals linked to care within three months of diagnosis; and for reducing the number of people who are unaware of their HIV infection from the 21 to ten percent by 2015.

AHF asserts that the administration is holding back funding for medication and prevention.

"As of July 9th, there were 2,291 people on AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP) waiting lists in 12 states including 605 in Florida—which has the third highest incidence of AIDS in the nation—and which only started its wait list June 1," said the press release.

"Under President Obama, the CDC’s landmark—and prudent—2006 guidelines recommending routine testing for HIV for all those ages 13-64 have also not been implemented nor even really prioritized," added Weinstein. "All around, this is a real disappointment."

President Obama, in a statement made at a press conference called to release the strategy, said, "Now, I know that this strategy comes at a difficult time for Americans living with HIV/AIDS, because we’ve got cash-strapped states who are being forced to cut back on essentials, including assistance for AIDS drugs."

He stated that his administration’s primary objective was to prevent HIV from spreading.

"Second is treatment," he said. "To extend lives and stem transmission, we need to make sure every HIV-positive American gets the medical care that they need. And by stopping health insurers from denying coverage because of a preexisting condition and by creating a marketplace where people with HIV/AIDS can buy affordable care, the health insurance reforms I signed into law this year are an important step forward.

His administration’s stated third goal is "reducing health disparities by combating the disease in communities where the need is greatest," he said.