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International AIDS Conference Comes to Washington: A Call for Global Solidarity

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This summer, while the focus in Washington will remain on debt reduction and spending cuts, for the first time in over twenty years, the International AIDS Conference will take place here - in the United States from July 22-27. The location of AIDS 2012, a premier meeting for those working in the field of HIV/AIDS, in Washington, D.C., is only possible because of the reversal of the HIV travel and immigration ban. In 2007, I introduced legislation that was successful in eventually overturning these discriminatory travel restrictions in 2010. Today, people living with HIV and AIDS are finally able to travel to our country to share in the invaluable learning and networking that comes from this global conference.

It is so exciting to host this conference at such a pivotal time in the history of the AIDS response. Thirty years after the first discovery of AIDS cases, the United States has made tremendous progress in addressing the global and domestic crisis. The good news is that new HIV infections worldwide are at their lowest levels since 1997, and even better -- the goal of eliminating new HIV infections in children by 2015 is within reach. There have also been revolutionary breakthroughs in AIDS research. The discoveries of treatments that can reduce new HIV infections by 96 percent have brought a message of energy and hope that is tangible and invigorating as we recommit to ending this epidemic.

At no other time in history has our global leadership been more important than it is right now. The conference attracts nearly 25,000 delegates from nearly 200 countries, representing scientists, researchers, community stakeholders, activists, business leaders, and government officials. These leaders in the global HIV and AIDS fight will showcase their incredible efforts and achievements on our own soil. Together, they will have the opportunity to develop new solutions in addressing the ongoing challenges posed by HIV/AIDS in our own country and around the world.

In the United States Congress, the Congressional Black Caucus and the bipartisan, bicameral Congressional HIV/AIDS Caucus continues to be at the forefront of the response. While we have made remarkable progress in expanding HIV treatment, prevention and care to millions of individuals worldwide, much more work remains. Globally, there are still nearly eight million HIV-positive people in need of treatment in low- and middle-income countries and more than 300,000 infants and children are infected with HIV each year. In the United States, African Americans comprised 14 percent of the population in 2009, yet accounted for 44 percent of all new HIV infections.

During the conference, all eyes will be on the host city of Washington, D.C., which is currently experiencing epidemic rates greater than some African countries, underscoring that AIDS 2012 is an important and long overdue opportunity for our domestic pandemic to become part of a global effort.

We are literally at a tipping point in the fight against AIDS -- and it is critical we not let this progress slip away. With the implementation of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, and Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, the United States is poised to expand access to HIV treatment, care, and prevention in historic ways. Globally, we must work to protect the precious resources that are at stake in this fight by ensuring full funding for the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and encourage all donors and governments to step up and increase funding for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. We must also repeal discriminatory laws and enact laws that facilitate and enable effective responses to HIV prevention, care and treatment services for all who need them. We all know that laws that fuel stigma, fear, distrust and hatred have no place in the United States or anywhere.

Now is the time to act boldly and to invest in a future for America and a world that is more prosperous, more equal, and free of HIV and AIDS. I hope that Americans will feel a sense of pride in our brave leadership and support our efforts to work for a world without AIDS.


Congresswoman Lee has been a leader in the fight against the global HIV/AIDS pandemic. She co-authored legislation signed into law creating the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria in 2000, the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) in 2003, the PEPFAR Reauthorization Act in 2008, and in 2005 legislation addressing the needs of orphans and vulnerable children affected by HIV/AIDS. She has also been a leader in the effort to establish a National AIDS Strategy, and is a member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health, Human Services & Education with jurisdiction over all domestic HIV/AIDS funding. She is the only United States representative on United Nations Development Programme's Global Commission on HIV and the Law and was the original sponsor of legislation that lead to the repeal of the Immigration and Travel ban that barred the entry of HIV positive individuals. The repeal allowed the International AIDS conference - scheduled for July 2012 in Washington DC - to be held in the U.S. after 20 years