WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama declared a new day in the fight against AIDS in the United States and around the world as he unveiled a plan to make life-saving drug treatments available to millions more people.
The Obama administration will redirect $50 million to prevention and treatment programs across the country and will aim to help provide anti-retroviral drugs to more than 6 million people around the world, an increase of 2 million over the previous goal.
“We can beat this disease,” Obama told a crowd gathered in Washington to mark World AIDS Day on Thursday. “We just have to keep at it, steady, persistent … every day until we get to zero.”
The remarks came at an event that included former President George W. Bush addressing the audience by satellite from Tanzania. Obama gave credit to his predecessor, praising Bush’s “bold leadership” in fighting AIDS in the U.S. and Africa.
Obama’s announcement drew praise from activists at a time when he hopes to renew the devotion of the liberal base that helped elect him 2008. AIDS activists periodically have criticized him, complaining that he could do more to improve access to treatment drugs, despite the budget-cutting mood in Congress.
In his address at George Washington University, Obama called on other countries to contribute more to the cause. “China and other major economies are in a position now to transition in a way that can help more people,” he said.
Around the world, activists used the day to warn that severe shortfalls in global AIDS funding would cost many lives, especially in hard-hit regions of southern Africa.
The World Health Organization said the sustained global investment in treating AIDS over the last decade had saved millions of lives, cutting AIDS-related deaths by 22 percent in the past five years. Studies have shown that suppressing the virus through treatment reduces its spread to patients’ partners by as much as 96 percent.
Obama is reallocating money that Congress already has approved for public health purposes, directing $35 million to state AIDS drug assistance programs and $15 million to the Ryan White program, which supports care provided by HIV clinics.