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Berman Recognizes the Start of the International AIDS Conference in Washington, DC

Washington, DC – Congressman Howard L. Berman, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, included the following remarks to the Congressional Record marking the return of the International AIDS Conference to the United States.

The statement follows:

“I rise to join my distinguished colleagues in welcoming the delegates and participants for the nineteenth annual International AIDS Conference, which will convene here in Washington from July 22nd to 27th. This is the first time that the conference has been held in the United States since 1985 -- a return made possible by our bipartisan efforts to remove travel and immigration restrictions against persons infected with HIV.

This international conference is important not just because of the issues it will highlight and the people it will bring together, but because of the scientific and informational exchange it will make possible. AIDS 2012, as it has been billed, is recognized as the premier gathering for individuals working in the HIV/AIDS field, as well as policymakers, advocates, care providers, people living with HIV/AIDS, and others committed to ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic. It offers a unique opportunity to change the course of the epidemic by capitalizing on scientific advances in treatment and prevention, building consensus to improve service delivery and maximize outcomes, facilitating global civil society engagement, and accelerating momentum toward a cure.

Even today, the magnitude of the challenge posed by HIV/AIDS is difficult to fathom. Despite the fact that the disease is easily preventable and treatable, almost 2 million people die each year from AIDS-related causes. At last count an estimated 34 million people were living with HIV/AIDS, including 3.4 million children. Sub-Saharan Africa continues to bear the brunt of the disease, accounting for 68 percent of those living with HIV/AIDS -- 59 percent of whom are women. Here in the United States, as many as 1 in 5 individuals living with HIV/AIDS is unaware of being infected, and significant disparities persist across different communities and populations with regard to incidence of infection, access to treatment, and health outcomes. Our nation’s capital has an HIV prevalence rate of nearly 3 percent, which is comparable to the rate in many parts of the developing world.

The enormity of the challenge calls for a sustained, coordinated and robust response. In 2003, President George W. Bush launched the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, known as PEPFAR, which received bipartisan support in Congress. It represents the largest commitment by any nation to combat a single disease and has saved the lives of millions of people around the world by establishing and expanding the infrastructure necessary to deliver prevention, care, and treatment services in low-resource settings. In 2008, I worked with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to enact the Tom Lantos and Henry J. Hyde United States Global Leadership Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria Reauthorization Act. That bill, which passed the House by an overwhelming margin of 308 to 116, authorized up to $48 billion over 5 years to combat those three diseases. The authorization will expire next year, and it’s time for us to renew the same spirit of bipartisan cooperation that led to this record of success.

With the help of PEPFAR and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the world has seen truly remarkable advances in AIDS research, prevention and treatment over the past decade. What was once seen as a death sentence is now, for those with access to treatment, a manageable illness, and large numbers of people in even the poorest countries are receiving treatment that once seemed out of reach. By the end of 2011, the Global Fund alone had supported anti-retroviral treatment for 3.3 million HIV-positive people, anti-tuberculosis treatment for 8.6 million, and 230 million insecticide-treated nets for the prevention of malaria, in all saving about 7.7 million lives. Recently the Fund has begun making comprehensive reforms to its structure and program to ensure that funds are spent in the most efficient, effective and accountable way.

President Obama has articulated a global vision of an AIDS-free generation, which means virtual elimination of new pediatric HIV infections by 2015, as well as a domestic goal of cutting new infections in the United States by 25% by 2015. As the eyes of the world are turned on our nation for the conference, we have an opportunity to step up to the plate and endorse these goals, not just in principle but also by making a commitment to provide the resources that are necessary to achieve it. We can’t do it all by ourselves – each country needs to do its part, with the help of the private sector and civil society organizations – but neither can it happen without us.”

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