September 2011 (To print, click the print icon on your browser
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Launch of Congressional HIV/AIDS Caucus Creates New Momentum for 30 Year-Old Effort

On September 15, 2011, influential and varied leaders of worldwide efforts to end HIV/AIDS gathered outside the U.S. Capitol for the official launch of the bipartisan Congressional HIV/AIDS Caucus. Led by a longtime champion in the fight against HIV/AIDS, Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA), and her colleagues Jim McDermott (D-WA) and Trent Franks (R-AZ), the new caucus will serve as a crucial extension of the Obama administration’s commitment to leading in the domestic and global fight against HIV/AIDS. Having recently passed the 30-year mark of battling the epidemic, the formation of the caucus shows a reinvigorated commitment among various parts of the U.S. government to engage in the implementation of HIV/AIDS prevention, care, and treatment. As mentioned in the Implementation Update released from The White House Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP) in July 2011, this commitment is a critical factor for the success of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy.[1] The caucus currently has 59 members and is the first of its kind to include representatives from both major U.S. political parties.
 
Speakers at the press conference introducing the new caucus highlighted current challenges in the fight against HIV/AIDS, particularly related to funding for domestic and international efforts. On the global front, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), created under former president George W. Bush, was cited numerous times as having made appreciable progress for current victims and those at risk of infection. Ronald Johnson, Vice President of Policy and Advocacy at AIDS United, noted at the press conference, “progress achieved through PEPFAR and the Global Fund, and recent HIV research advances show that increasingly we have the knowledge, skills, and tools to reduce new infections, increase access to care, and eliminate disparities and inequalities. This is a unique moment of opportunity. This is not the time for U.S. leadership to weaken; indeed it must grow and strengthen.”[2] In light of severe budget cuts at the federal and state levels and the Republican Party’s recent attempts to cut funding for HIV/AIDS-related programs, the caucus’ goals will include protecting Congressional funding for domestic and global HIV/AIDS programs, including PEPFAR, which is up for reauthorization in 2013.[3]
 
With the mention of major advances in tackling HIV/AIDS came reminders of the devastation still occurring, or in some cases increasing, due to the epidemic. Mr. Johnson noted that the population of men who have sex with men (MSM) deserve particular focus from U.S. leaders.[4]  Indeed, a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released on August 3, 2011 reveals that while new HIV infections in the U.S. have essentially stabilized from 2006–2009, those aged 13–29 experienced a 21% increase in incidence, a statistic that primarily reflects a 34% increase in young MSM.[5] The MSM population as a whole accounted for roughly 61% of all new HIV infections in 2009, despite being only 2% of the U.S. population. The CDC speculates that this growing trend arises, in part, from “societal factors, including stigma of HIV and homosexuality.”[6] Representative Barbara Lee also touched on our “moral responsibility” to stem the growing incidence of HIV/AIDS among the African American population.[7] Representative Jim McDermott added, “We cannot fool ourselves into thinking that we have HIV/AIDS under control, because we don’t. Despite the enormous progress we have made over 30 years, we still have no vaccine, and treatment remains out of reach for so many. We have to keep our eye on the ball and continue pushing forward: prevention, treatment, and finding a vaccine must remain our focus.”[8]
 
Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of UNAIDS, brought attention to the immense potential of a concentrated group of concerned government leaders to actualize change, including the end of vertical transmission, or transmission of HIV from mother to child, by 2015, a personal priority of Representative Franks.[9] Sidibé said, “The United States’ global leadership and the generosity of the American people have made a profound and positive different in the AIDS epidemic. This sustained commitment, across political administrations for more than a decade, has saved millions of lives. And I am counting on the Congressional HIV/AIDS Caucus to continue to play a critical role in shaping the future of the AIDS response.” [10]
 
SIECUS’ Director of Public Policy, Jen Heitel Yakush, sees promise in the formation of the Congressional HIV/AIDS Caucus. “It is our hope that this new Congressional HIV/AIDS Caucus will focus renewed energy and again spotlight the need for policies and funding supporting HIV/AIDS prevention, care, and treatment. If the Caucus concentrates on protecting and growing federal funding for HIV/AIDS programs that are currently at-risk, this Caucus’ actions will go a long way towards achieving the goals of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy.”
 
 

[1]“President Barack Obama Unveils National HIV/AIDS Strategy,” SIECUS, July 2010, accessed 15 September 2011, <http://siecus.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=Feature.showFeature&featureid=1983&pageid=483&parentid=478>; see also The White House Office on National AIDS Policy, “National HIV/AIDS Strategy: Implementation Update,” Released July 2011, accessed 15 September 2011, <www.whitehouse.gov/onap>.
[2]Kristal DeKleer, “Lee, McDermott and Franks Launch Congressional HIV/AIDS Caucus,” Press Release issued 16 September 2011, accessed 15 September 2011, <http://lee.house.gov/index.cfm?sectionid=57&sectiontree=35,57&itemid=2437>.
[3]Christina Wilkie, “Congress Creates Bipartisan HIV/AIDS Caucus, 30 Years After HIV Discovery,” 15 September 2011, accessed 18 September 2011, <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/15/hiv-aids-congress_n_965131.html?view=print&comm_ref=false>.
[4]The Human Rights Campaign, Andrea Levario, “House Members Launch Congressional HIV/AIDS Caucus,” 15 September 2011, accessed 18 September 2011, <http://www.hrcbackstory.org/2011/09/house-members-launch-congressional-hivaids-caucus/>.
[5]The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “HIV Incidence,” 9 August 2011, accessed 18 September 2011, <www.cdc.gov/hiv/topics/surveillance/print/incidence.htm>; see also “New HIV Incidence Shows Overall Stability, But Rising Rate among Youth and MSM,” SIECUS, August 2011, accessed 10 November 2011, <http://siecus.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=Feature.showFeature&featureid=2044&pageid=483&parentid=478>.
[6]Ibid.
[7]Official web site for Congresswoman Barbara Lee, “Global Fight Against HIV/AIDS,” accessed 15 September 2011, <http://lee.house.gov/index.cfm?sectionid=77&sectiontree=38,77>.
[8] Kristal DeKleer, “Lee, McDermott and Franks Launch Congressional HIV/AIDS Caucus,” Press Release issued 16 September 2011, accessed 15 September 2011, <http://lee.house.gov/index.cfm?sectionid=57&sectiontree=35,57&itemid=2437>.
[9]Christina Wilkie, “Congress Creates Bipartisan HIV/AIDS Caucus, 30 Years After HIV Discovery,” 15 September 2011, accessed 18 September 2011, <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/15/hiv-aids-congress_n_965131.html?view=print&comm_ref=false>.
[10]Kristal DeKleer, “Lee, McDermott and Franks Launch Congressional HIV/AIDS Caucus,” Press Release issued 16 September 2011, accessed 15 September 2011, <http://lee.house.gov/index.cfm?sectionid=57&sectiontree=35,57&itemid=2437>.