Clinton Pledges Long-Term Commitment To Fight Against HIV/AIDS, Addresses PEPFAR, Other Issues
Former President Clinton on Tuesday at the XVI International AIDS Conference in Toronto said he will continue to combat HIV/AIDS for the rest of his life or until the pandemic is controlled, the San Francisco Chronicle reports (Russell, San Francisco Chronicle, 8/16). "I can't conceive of anything that would divert me from this commitment, short of a life-threatening illness or success (in defeating HIV/AIDS)," Clinton said. Clinton used the session to address several issues related to HIV/AIDS and efforts to fight the disease worldwide.
Abstinence, Sex Worker Pledge
During this session, Clinton spoke out against HIV prevention programs that focus solely on abstinence, saying, "I think that abstinence-only is an error" (Ubelacker, CP/CBC News, 8/15). Clinton also challenged the U.S. policy limiting funds to HIV/AIDS programs that pledge their opposition to commercial sex work (San Francisco Chronicle, 8/16). The Bush administration in June 2005 notified U.S. organizations providing HIV/AIDS-related services in other countries that they must sign the pledge to be considered for federal funding. The policy stems from two 2003 laws, including an amendment to legislation (HR 1298) authorizing the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief that prohibits funds from going to any group or organization that does not have a policy "explicitly opposing prostitution and sex trafficking" (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 5/19). "I don't see how you can go into a country with a lot of sex workers and not deal with sex workers," Clinton said, adding, "We should say, 'We disapprove of prostitution. Here's the money. Let's go save some lives'" (San Francisco Chronicle, 8/16). According to a PEPFAR spokesperson, "Nothing in U.S. law or policy prohibits the U.S. government, or any of our partners, from providing services to high-risk populations, including commercial sex workers. We are committed to support all people infected and affected by HIV/AIDS with dignity and compassion" (Fox, Reuters AlertNet, 8/15). Clinton also reiterated his call for empowering women by providing them with tools, such as microbicides, to protect themselves from HIV transmission. "Empowering women to protect themselves seems so elemental, and yet when I hear people pontificating against AIDS and acting as if we can do everything through abstinence, I think they don't know what most women are up against in too many parts of the world today," Clinton said (CP/CBC News, 8/15).
Needle-Exchange, Circumcision, Vaccine
On the issue of needle-exchange programs to prevent the spread of HIV among injection drug users, Clinton said he regretted his decision not to support the programs while he was president. "I was wrong," he said, adding, "The evidence shows that it doesn't lead to increased drug usage" (Chase, Wall Street Journal, 8/15). Clinton also called for routine HIV testing in areas highly affected by HIV/AIDS, criticized drug companies for charging too much for antiretroviral drugs, said that politicians who misspend money for HIV/AIDS should be imprisoned, and urged public health officials to follow through on evidence that male circumcision might prevent HIV transmission among men (Picard, Globe and Mail, 8/16). He said the world needs to address cultural taboos regarding circumcision if it is found to be an effective HIV prevention tool. "Should this be shown to be effective, we will have another means to prevent the spread of the disease and to save lives, and we will have a big job to do," he said (Boseley, Guardian, 8/16). Clinton also urged researchers to continue searching for an HIV vaccine. U.N. Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa Stephen Lewis, who introduced Clinton, said, "The quest for [an HIV] vaccine is the single most important quest in the world" (Ingham, AFP/Yahoo! News, 8/15). Clinton praised Lewis for his efforts to combat the epidemic, saying, "I thank him for a lifetime of public service" (CP/CBC News, 8/15). He also praised Richard Feachem, executive director of the Global Fund To Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, who is stepping down from his position this year, saying, "Countless people are alive today because of Richard's work" (San Francisco Chronicle, 8/16).
Kaisernetwork.org is serving as the official webcaster of the conference. View the guide to coverage and all webcasts, interviews and a daily video round up of conference highlights at http://www.kaisernetwork.org/aids2006. Watch the webcast of the session with Clinton and Lewis, as well as the official conference press briefing featuring additional questions and answered.