Another World AIDS Day has come and gone, and the international struggle against HIV and AIDS continues. Progress, subsidized primarily by governments and private philanthropies, never seems quite fast enough, as the death toll continues to mount and more people acquire HIV.
Adolescents are an area of emphasis this year. That’s good. Of the 35.3 million people that the World Health Organization says were living with HIV last year, 2.1 million were adolescents. Most are poor, and as is almost always the case with the poor, they often don’t receive the care they need.
Many of the adolescents with HIV, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, were infected at birth. Now they face unique social and emotional issues and are less likely than adults to get tested for HIV. It is no coincidence that between 2005 and 2012, AIDS-related deaths in this group increased by half while they declined in the general population. These young people need and deserve medical, financial and emotional support as they grow up coping with a disease so many of them were born with.
In the United States, meanwhile, a bipartisan group of more than three dozen members of Congress wants President Barack Obama to nearly double the number of people who benefit from a U.S. program that helps the governments of some of the world’s poorest nations fight AIDS.
The group, whose leaders include Sen. Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican, and Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, want 12 million people receiving anti-retroviral drugs by the end of 2016. The program, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), treated 6.7 million people this year, far exceeding the goal of 6 million. In addition to treating millions of people in poor countries, the program’s successes include ensuring that 1 million babies in the world have been born HIV-free.
President Obama this week also pledged as much as $5 billion over the next three years to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, on the condition that other nations together contribute $10 billion. In addition, the president said that the National Institutes of Health would invest $100 million over the next three years in a new initiative to find a cure for HIV.
Tragically, a cure has so far proved elusive. But the progress made thus far in prolonging lives and easing suffering easily justifies both continued investment and the sense that researchers are coming ever closer to a cure for this scourge.