Obama AIDS Plan Calls for Reducing Infections

President Barack Obama is announcing a new national strategy for combating HIV and AIDS aimed at helping reduce the number of infections and providing those living with the virus high-quality care free from stigma or discrimination.

The strategy calls for reducing the rate of new HIV infections by 25 percent over the next five years, and for getting treatment to 85 percent of patients within three months of their diagnosis.

Administration officials, including Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and domestic policy chairwoman Melody Barnes, were to unveil the strategy at the White House on Tuesday. Obama was to discuss the strategy at a reception honoring the work of the HIV and AIDS community later in the day.

"This is a moment of opportunity for the nation," Obama said in a report to be released Tuesday. "Now is the time to build on and refocus our existing efforts to deliver better results for the American people."

The report is the result of more than a year of discussions between the administration, state and local officials, advocacy groups and the private sector. While the strategy calls for improved coordination among federal agencies, it doesn't identify any new government money to implement the strategy.

Approximately 56,000 people in the U.S. become infected each year with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, and more than 1.1 million Americans are living with the HIV, according to the White House.

Despite medical breakthroughs that have greatly increased life expectancy and improved quality of life for those living with HIV, the report says the stigma associated with virus, "remains extremely high and fear of discrimination causes some Americans to avoid learning their HIV status, disclosing their status, or accessing medical care."

To reduce discrimination against HIV-positive people, the strategy calls for HIV awareness programs to be integrated into "all educational environments and health and wellness initiatives", even in communities where the risks of infection are low.

However, the new policy will concentrate HIV prevention efforts at the highest-risk populations, which include gay and bisexual men as well as black Americans, far more than is done today.

That means finding creative ways to spread successful local programs that help HIV-negative people stay that way, as well as providing education and treatment for people who are living with HIV to reduce their chances of spreading the virus, said Chris Collins of the Foundation for AIDS Research, one of the groups that met with administration officials.

The strategy also aims to copy some of the steps credited with spurring the success of a Bush-era policy to fight AIDS in hard-hit developing countries. That includes setting specific targets and mandating coordination among different government agencies to guard against missteps and wasted, duplicated efforts.

"We've never had that kind of coordinated, accountable effort to address AIDS in America, and that's what we need," Collins said.

There is a new HIV infection every 9 1/2 minutes in the U.S. But about one of every five people living with HIV doesn't know it.

Access to care plays a role in prevention, too, because the more virus in someone's bloodstream, the easier it is for that person to spread infection through such things as unprotected sex.

In one step toward reducing disparities in access to care, the Obama administration on Friday reallocated $25 million to states that have waiting lists for their AIDS Drug Assistance Programs, which provide treatment help for the uninsured and underinsured.

The National Alliance of State & Territorial AIDS Directors reported that more than 2,200 people in 12 states were on waiting lists for ADAP help as of last week.