Advocates Urge Obama Administration To Develop U.S. HIV/AIDS Strategy
HIV/AIDS advocates on Tuesday called on President-elect Barack Obama to adopt a comprehensive approach to domestic HIV/AIDS policy when he takes office, CQ HealthBeat reports. The groups encouraged the incoming administration to develop a national strategy to address HIV/AIDS in the U.S. and recommended implementing a domestic HIV/AIDS program modeled after the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. HIV/AIDS researcher Robert Gallo recently proposed a similar approach. "It is astonishing that [the U.S.] has never really set an overall plan and agenda for the country, with measurable outcomes, accountability established and specific timetables for getting to those results," Rebecca Haag, executive director of AIDS Action Council, said. The advocates also called for increased federal funding for HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and research programs and called for a departure from some policies enacted under the Bush administration.
Carl Schmid, director of federal affairs at the AIDS Institute, said he is "optimistic" about Obama's election and hopes the new administration will bring "renewed leadership on the domestic HIV/AIDS front" because the disease is "still a major, significant health crisis" in the U.S. Advocates in a letter sent to Obama's transition team -- which included policy recommendations aimed at guiding him during his first 100 days in office -- encouraged the administration to support the higher amounts proposed for federal funding for HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and research programs in competing fiscal year 2009 appropriations measures. According to Schmid, the priority given to HIV/AIDS programs in the President-elect's first budget "will be a good signal to the Obama administration's commitment to the domestic [HIV/AIDS] epidemic."
The advocates also called for an increase in federal funding for NIH, including an increase of $450 million for HIV/AIDS research. They also support additional funding for CDC, including an increase of $200 million for HIV prevention and surveillance. In addition, the group called for a $100 million increase in FY 2009 funding for the Ryan White Program and a $614.49 million increase for the program in FY 2010. Christine Lubinski, vice president of global health at the Infectious Diseases Society of America, said the Ryan White Program "has not been funded at adequate levels," adding, "We'll be looking for a budgeting increase and leadership in extending the Ryan White Care Act, which will sunset on Sept. 30."
Haag called on Obama to end some existing policies, including the ban on federal funding for needle-exchange programs, which she called "one of the most effective" tools to reduce HIV transmission. Haag also criticized abstinence-only sex education programs. According to Haag, strong leadership will be necessary to unite and coordinate the efforts of 17 federal agencies that currently work on HIV/AIDS issues. "We have asked that the national AIDS strategy be driven out of the White House," Haag said, adding that "the force of the president's leadership" will be necessary to address HIV/AIDS in the U.S. (Weyl, CQ HealthBeat, 11/25).