Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) joined UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé for a site visit and tour of AIDS Project of the East Bay. This site visit is intended to inform Mr. Sidibé's work to reduce HIV/AIDS both domestically and internationally.
"While we have made tremendous progress, make no mistake -- HIV/AIDS is devastating communities of color, women, and young gay and bisexual men in the United States," said Congresswoman Lee. "If we are going to truly end the AIDS epidemic in this country and across the globe, we must address the underlying issues of race, education, sex, poverty and stigma which continue to fuel the spread of HIV in certain communities. Nowhere is this more critical than in Oakland, California, where HIV transmission is alarmingly high. Unless we stand up and fight for our right to live, our friends and family members, and our brothers and sisters, will continue to suffer and die because of this preventable and treatable disease."
"Access to care, removing stigma and discrimination, adequate numbers of health care workers to provide services - these are still challenges of critical importance whether you are in Oakland, California or in rural communities across Africa," said Mr. Sidibé. "The U.S. epidemic is very much part of the global epidemic requiring leadership across all sectors. Only together can we envision a path to zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination, and zero AIDS-related deaths."
Ten years after local officials first declared the city to be in a state of emergency over its rising HIV rates, Oakland remains torn apart by a seemingly unstoppable epidemic. Since 1998, Alameda County has been fighting a rapidly increasing rate of diagnosed and undiagnosed HIV cases. Oakland, the county's largest city, has accounted for the highest number of cases within the county for more than 10 years. The city alone accounts for 65 percent of Alameda County's HIV/AIDS cases, and its infection rate is seven times higher than other cities in the county. Nationally, African Americans continue to face the most severe burden of HIV/AIDS of all racial groups. According to the Centers for Disease Control, African Americans account for nearly half of all new infections (44%) while only representing 14% of the population.
Congresswoman Lee has been a leader in the effort to establish a National AIDS Strategy, and is a member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health, Human Services and Education with jurisdiction over all domestic HIV/AIDS funding. She is the only United States representative on United Nations Development Programme's Global Commission on HIV and the Law and was the original sponsor of legislation that lead to the repeal of the U.S. Immigration and Travel ban that barred the entry of HIV positive individuals. The repeal of the travel ban allowed the International AIDS conference - scheduled for July 2012 in Washington DC - to be held in the U.S. after 20 years. Representative Lee and Mr. Sidibe will both be addressing the International AIDS Conference in Washington at the opening session.