Approximately 20,000 delegates will gather in Washington, D.C. this week for the 19th International AIDS Conference (IAS). Among these attendees are policy makers, researchers, and people living with HIV/AIDS. It has been 12 years since the last global AIDS conference was held in the United States. The IAS Governing Council decided to hold this year’s conference in the U.S. after President Barack Obama overturned the HIV Entry Ban in 2009.
Despite the continuing epidemic, the world has made great strides in the fight against AIDS. This summer, GlobalPost will be reporting from D.C., Zimbabwe, Swaziland, South Africa and Tanzania for its “AIDS: A Turning Point” series, specifically focusing on stories and angles that have been ignored by the American media.
This year’s conference location holds even gr
eater significance, as the U.S. capital is facing its own AIDS epidemic. As Juliana Schatz reports in “Turning Point: D.C.’s AIDS Detective,” D.C. has the highest HIV/AIDS infection rate in the United States—three percent of all adults ages 15 to 19 are HIV-positive. What might come as an even greater surprise is that D.C. has a higher HIV rate than the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Rwanda, Ethiopia, and 28 other African countries. The District and the rest of the U.S. are now looking to Africa for lessons and ideas.
Tracy Jarrett, a Chicago-based journalist, recently traveled to South Africa to find out what the U.S. could learn from the country’s fight against AIDS. While Jarrett provided her field reporting in “A Daughter’s Journey,” she also shared how AIDS affected her family since the disease took her mother’s life shortly after Jarrett’s fifth birthday. Twenty years later, she traveled to Africa to learn more about the prevention of mother-to-child transmission, but took away even greater lessons. After speaking to many victims and their families, she realized that most share the same struggles, whether they are from the U.S. or Africa. While most have kept their stories a secret, she believes that there needs to be a greater dialogue about AIDS in the United States. If the U.S. were to follow South Africa’s model, Jarrett writes, we could potentially keep the issue of AIDS in the public’s attention.
While the United States has lessons to learn from Africa, U.S. politics and the economic crisis seem to be standing in the way. Despite President Obama’s promise last December to increase the number of AIDS patients being treated from four to six billion, the administration recently called for a $550 million reduction in its global AIDS programs. When the Obama administration was questioned about the proposed budget cuts, it countered that the government does not need more money since nearly $1.4 billion has been stuck in the pipeline for 18 months or more. To put this into perspective, $1.4 billion is roughly three times the annual amount the U.S. government spent a decade ago on AIDS globally.
To learn more about the 2012 International AIDS Conference, visit http://www.aids2012.org/.