Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.), Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, and long-time supporter of programs to fight and prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, released the following statement today in recognition of World AIDS Day.
"After three decades of battling HIV/AIDS, science has now brought us closer than ever before to winning. President Obama spoke this morning about the possibility of achieving an AIDS-free generation. What a dramatic change from the early days when politicians dared not even say the word AIDS. I understand our budgetary constraints and I realize other countries have to share in this responsibility, but this issue remains a basic test of America's moral authority and the power of our leadership.
"Today we know that antiretroviral treatment can reduce the possibility of transmitting the virus by as much as 96 percent. With this new information and other proven prevention tools, we can help empower countries across the globe to stop AIDS in its tracks.
"While Massachusetts remains one of the top ten states in total reported AIDS cases since the onset of the epidemic, our state is also an excellent example of the progress being made both in preventing the spread of the virus and reducing its mortality. From 2000 to 2009, the annual number of new HIV diagnoses in our state was reduced by more than half. And even while the overall number of persons living with HIV continued to grow, death rates from AIDS continued to fall, meaning more people are living longer despite battling the disease.
"Today is an important milestone to remember those we've lost, to celebrate the progress we've made, but most importantly to rededicate ourselves to eliminating this terrible disease once and for all."
Next July, Washington, D.C. will host the International AIDS Conference, the first such meeting on American soil in more than 20 years. This conference, which began here in the United States, has returned because Senator Kerry and others in Congress helped finally eliminate the stigmatizing prohibition on travel visas for persons living with HIV.
Senator Kerry has spent that last decade working to encourage medical research, increase access to preventative resources, testing, and treatment, and fighting stigma and discrimination that hamper efforts to combat the disease. His most notable work on this issue includes:
* In 2000, Senator Kerry authored, and President Clinton signed, a comprehensive package of funding for AIDS prevention programs and investments in purchase funds for vaccines. At the time, this law represented the largest single monetary commitment ever made by the U.S. Congress to deal with the AIDS epidemic in Africa.
* In 2002, Kerry teamed up with Senator Bill Frist (R-TN) to build on the programs and funding that were authorized in the previous Congress. This legislation also notably called for the first ever effort to create a long-term strategy for American leadership in responding to the global HIV/AIDS pandemic.
* In 2007, Kerry authored legislation to eliminate the 20 year travel and immigration ban on those infected with HIV. Supported by more than 30 public health, LGBT and religious organizations, it was signed into law in July of 2008 as part of the Lantos-Hyde reauthorization of PEPFAR. He worked with both the Bush and Obama Administrations to ensure that new regulations were written and on January 4, 2010 the regulations went into effect. Since this day, HIV positive individuals have been allowed to enter the United States without the stigmatizing restriction.
* In 2010, Kerry led the congressional effort calling on the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to review and revise the outdated policy that bars gay men from donating blood. As a result of the initial review, the Department of Health and Human Services determined this policy to be "suboptimal" and initiated a process to modify the blood donor screening process in a way that improves the safety of the blood supply from blood borne diseases like HIV/AIDS without perpetuating stereotypes and discrimination against gay men.
To date, approximately 30 million people around the world have lost their lives to HIV/AIDS. This year, an estimated 34 million people were living with HIV. There is no known vaccine or cure, but medical breakthroughs have proven to significantly reduce the transmissibility of the disease, and to dramatically improve the quality and length of life for people who are infected with HIV.