Obama announcing new goals to combat HIV and AIDS

Thursday, December 1, 2011 | 8:33 a.m. CST; updated 11:19 a.m. CST, Thursday, December 1, 2011

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama is renewing the U.S. commitment to ending HIV and AIDS on Thursday, setting goals for getting more people access to life-saving AIDS drugs and boosting spending on treatment of the virus in the U.S. by $50 million dollars.

Obama will announce the new initiatives at a Washington event marking World AIDS Day. Former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton will also speak at the event via satellite.

Senior Obama administration officials said Obama will set a goal of getting antiretroviral drugs to 2 million more people around the world by the end of 2013. In addition, the U.S. will aim to get the drugs to 1.5 million HIV-positive pregnant women to prevent them from passing the virus to their children.

The new global goals build on the work of the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, which focuses on prevention, treatment and support programs in 15 countries hard-hit by the AIDS epidemic, 12 of them in Africa. Bush launched the $15 billion plan in 2003, and in 2008, Congress tripled the budget to $48 billion over five years.

Despite Obama's more ambitious goals, the plan's budget is not expected to increase. Instead, officials said the expanded targets would be funded through savings achieved by making the program more efficient and cutting the costs of treatment.

Obama is also announcing new initiatives to combat the spread of HIV in the U.S. Officials said he would direct the Department of Health and Human Services to increase funding for domestic HIV and AIDS treatment by $50 million. The White House said there are 1.2 million Americans living with HIV, and there are 50,000 new infections each year.

The bulk of the new funding — $35 million — will go to state programs that help people living with HIV and AIDS get medicine. There are currently more than 6,500 Americans living with the virus on waiting lists for medication, according to the White House.

The rest of the domestic funds will go to HIV medical clinics across the country, with an emphasis on areas where infections have increased and care and treatment are not readily available. Officials said the additional clinic funding would give 7,500 more patients access to treatment.

The officials said Obama does not need congressional approval to allocate the funds. The officials requested anonymity in order to speak ahead of the president's official announcement.

Officials from both parties praised the new initiatives and commended Democratic and Republican presidents for coming together for the announcement.

"Here's what we can do when we work together," said Gayle Smith, Obama's senior director for development and democracy at the National Security Council. "We've got leaders of both political parties standing behind something that works."

Tony Fratto, a former Bush spokesman, urged both parties to avoid making the fight against AIDS a political issue.

"The only way to undermine this historic undertaking is if it becomes a partisan issue," he said. "The reasons a Barack Obama and a George W. Bush can support America's leading role in addressing this disease may be very different, but what's important is they've sought the same goal."

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