World AIDS Day 2015: The Start of the End of HIV?

Since 1988, World AIDS Day has been marked on December 1st as an opportunity to unite in the global fight against HIV, show solidarity with those living with the virus and remember those lost to this terrible epidemic.
Over the nearly three decades since the first World AIDS Day, we have come far in our efforts to combat and finally destroy this virus.

Thanks to medical advances and critical programs like PEPFAR and Ryan White CARE, tens of millions of people have had access to education and risk-management tools that prevent infection and millions living with the virus have access to life-saving medicines that helps keep them healthy.
While we have made great process, much work remains.

Earlier this year, UNAIDS released a stark report finding that without a drastic acceleration in efforts to combat HIV over the next five years, we risk it rebounding out of control. UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé was frank in saying: “the next five years provide a fragile window of opportunity to fast-track the response and end the AIDS epidemic by 2030…If we don’t, the human and financial consequences will be catastrophic.”

This report should be a wake-up call to global policymakers and public health officials that the time for action is now. Let’s ensure that World AIDS Day 2015 marks the start of the end of HIV.

Globally, more than 35 million people are living with HIV/AIDS and an estimated 19 million do not know they have the virus.

More than a million Americans are living with the virus and tragically, but only about 30 percent have it under control.

Each year, an estimated 50,000 Americans contract the virus with a quarter of these new infections occurring in young people between the ages of 13 and 24. We also continue to see disproportionately high rates of new infections amongst men-who-have-sex-with-men (MSM) of color and African American women.

We can and must do more to reach these communities. By making targeted investments in these key demographic groups, we can have the greatest impact. Earlier this year, President Obama released the updated National HIV/AIDS Strategy which prioritizes these highly affected communities to have the greatest impact in fighting this virus.

While the President continues to lead on this issue, Congress must join.

On the global front, we must continue our legacy as the world leader in foreign assistance. As a member of the foreign operations funding committee, I regularly champion this effort.

Here at home, we must ensure that all those living with HIV have access to care and achieve viral suppression. This year marked the 25th anniversary of the Ryan White CARE Act, which has successfully retained 81 percent of patients in care. Ensuring adequate resources for the Ryan White CARE program and other domestic HIV programs is a priority of mine as a member of the health funding subcommittee.

However, access to care and treatment is not enough. It’s imperative that people understand how HIV is spread, how to protect themselves and their risk factors for infection.

Currently, the CDC reports that 15 percent of school health programs do not provide students with information about HIV.

With an estimated 12,500 new infections amongst, we must ensure that every student has the information necessary to make healthy decisions.

My legislation, Real Education for Healthy Youth Act (H.R. 1706), would ensure that our nation’s young people have medically and scientifically accurate information about HIV and their health. Passing this legislation would be an important step forward to reducing and finally ending the high rate of new HIV infections amongst American youth.

In addition to education, we must end the discrimination that surrounds this virus. Thirty-three states still have HIV criminalization laws on the books. These laws serve only to breed fear, distrust and misunderstanding and it’s past time to repeal them.

Earlier this year, I re-introduced the bipartisan REPEAL Act (H.R. 1586) which would take steps to address these discriminatory laws.
While our fight to end HIV/AIDS has come a long way; we still have much work to do.

But together, we can make World AIDS Day 2015 the start of the end of HIV.”

The original text can be found on Medium.