Gay community calls Obama plan for AIDS a victory

July 13, 2010 7:13:49 PM PDT
President Obama wants to reduce the rate of new HIV infections in the U.S. by 25 percent over the next five years. The White House made the announcement Tuesday as part of the administration's new plan for combating HIV and AIDS.

The gay community is calling this a huge victory. The president's AIDS plan specifically targets gay and bisexual men and African-Americans and that's a first for any administration.

If we go back to 1983, there were more than 1,000 cases in San Francisco, but it wasn't until 1987 when then President Reagan, during his second term in office, made the first remarks about Americans diagnosed with AIDS.

More than 56,000 Americans become infected with HIV every year; that's 153 people a day.

The president's goal is to reduce that number by 25 percent by encouraging more people to get tested because those who find out they are positive are less likely to infect others.

"I could envision some kind of national campaign that would really be around everyone knowing their HIV status. It could be as common as knowing your home address," says Barbara Kimport from the San Francisco AIDS Foundation.

Obama's plan also calls for Americans infected with HIV to get treated within three months and focuses on high risk populations.

"Gay and bisexual men make up a small percentage of the population, but over 50 percent of new infections. For African Americans it's 13 percent of the population, but nearly 50 percent of people living with HIV/AIDS," says Obama.

This is a key strategy according to Israel Nieves, who is with the HIV prevention office for the San Francisco Health Department.

"You get better treatment, you get better service, you feel engaged, you feel part of the process," says Nieves.

And for the first time, the new strategy calls for a national coordinated effort, meaning every agency must have the same goals when it comes to prevention and treatment.

This is very similar to President Bush's emergency program for AIDS relief -- PEPFAR -- which has helped turn the tide against HIV and AIDS mainly in Africa. Public health ministries, hospitals, doctors and communities there have one plan, same goals and they follow them or they lose funding.

"Any country that we funded through PEPFAR has a national HIV/AIDS strategy and we have none," says Kimport.

That was the case of course until now.

As expected, San Francisco has had a plan in place for awhile, which is considered a model for the rest of the nation.

A number of local groups, including the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, were instrumental in pushing Obama to adopt a strategy even before he was elected.

There were a lot of San Francisco and Oakland folks with the president in Washington on Tuesday.


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