WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama vowed Thursday to bolster U.S. efforts to fight AIDS, setting a new goal of providing treatment to 6 million people worldwide, up from the earlier goal of 4 million.
Obama, at a World AIDS Day event, also challenged other nations to boost their commitments and called on China to “step up” as a major donor in the effort to expand access to AIDS drugs.
“We can beat this disease. We can win this fight. We just have to keep at it, today, tomorrow, and every day until we get to zero,” Obama said at the forum, where he credited his Republican predecessor, George W. Bush, for his efforts to combat AIDS and HIV.
“As we go forward, we need to keep refining our strategy so that we’re saving as many lives as possible. We need to listen when the scientific community focuses on prevention,” Obama said.
He said the United States was also setting a goal of providing anti-retroviral drugs to more than 1.5 million HIV-positive pregnant woman worldwide over the next two years.
Bush, who sought to make the fight against AIDS and HIV a signature issue of his presidency, spoke by satellite to the Washington event, which was sponsored by the ONE campaign, a grassroots advocacy organization dedicated to fighting poverty and preventable disease, particularly in Africa.
Also part of the lineup of speakers were Democratic former President Bill Clinton, U2 lead singer Bono, singer Alicia Keys and Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio. Like Bush, Clinton participated by satellite.
Obama also announced a $50 million increase in spending on HIV and AIDS treatment in the United States. The funds would come from existing resources and would not require congressional approval, a White House official said.
Only 28 percent of the 1.2 million Americans living with HIV have the infection under control, increasing the risk that they will spread the disease to others, according to research by U.S. health officials published this week.
Part of the problem is that one in five U.S. adults infected with HIV do not know it and of those who are aware, only half receive ongoing medical care and treatment, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a report.
The AIDS issue seemed to prompt a rare instance of bipartisan agreement at a time when Democrats and Republicans have been bitterly divided over tax policy and spending cuts.
“Look back and you’ll see that both Republicans and Democrats in Congress have consistently come together to fund this fight,” Obama said. “That’s testament to the values that we share as Americans, a commitment that extends across party lines and that is demonstrated by President Bush and I joining you all today.”
In his remarks via satellite from Tanzania, Bush said he understood that many nations, including the United States, were struggling with their budgets.
But he said wealthy nations had an obligation to make the fight against AIDS a priority.
“We’re a blessed nation in the United States of America, and I believe we are required to support effective programs that save lives,” Bush said.