Hillary Clinton told the International Aids conference yesterday that the United States remains determined to eradicate Aids around the world amid warnings that the progress made so far could be reversed if donor nations pinch pennies in times of economic slowdown.
"I want to be absolutely clear the United States is committed and will remain committed to creating an Aids-free generation, we will not back down," the US Secretary of State told delegates at the start of the five-day meeting. Aware of the concern that money, especially from national budgets, for research and treatment around the world is at risk of drying up, she added: "We will fight for the resources necessary to achieve this historic milestone."
"Obviously when there are constrained resources there is some impact on your ability to implement [programmes]," Anthony Fauci, the head of Aids research at the National Institutes of Health, told reporters. One solution, he said, was to "bring in more countries that have not yet to this point participated very robustly". He noted that Japan, Germany and Saudi Arabia had recently stepped up contributions to the Global Fund to combat Aids.
"Funding is so important. Without funding we will get nowhere," Sir Elton John agreed last night. In a keynote speech earlier, he testified in moving terms about his journey through years of unsafe sex and drug abuse and the salvation that came because of love shown to him by others. "I should be dead," the British recording star said.
Asserting that "love is the cure", Sir Elton appealed for action to end the stigma associated with HIV/Aids to make it easier to bring HIV-positive people out of the shadows and thus into treatment. "Everyone deserves compassion, everyone deserves dignity. Everyone, everyone, everyone deserves love," he said to the audience. "The Aids disease is caused by a virus but the Aids epidemic is not. It is fuelled by stigma."
Speaking earlier, Mrs Clinton defined an "Aids-free generation" as a world where no child will again be born with the HIV virus, where adults will be at "significantly lower risk of becoming infected" and where anyone who is already HIV-positive will have full access to drug therapy and will thus be protected from developing Aids.
On a personal note, Mrs Clinton recalled visiting the Aids quilt when it was on the National Mall in 1996 and she lived in the White House with Bill Clinton. The quilt now weighs 54 tons and is partially back on the Mall for this week, with sections also hung in the convention centre. The names of some of their friends were on it, she said.
Yet some will remain sceptical. President Barack Obama, who is skipping the conference, has proposed cuts in Pepfar, the US programme for Aids, in the 2013 budget. Michel Sidibé, the chief of UNAids, noted that while the world spent $16.8bn fighting Aids in the poorest nations last year, that was still $7bn a year short of the amount needed nearly to double the 8 million people getting life-saving drugs by an agreed deadline of 2015.
"This gap is killing people," Mr Sidibé said. "The end of Aids is not free. It is not too expensive. It is priceless."