More than 700,000 people have died of AIDS-related illnesses in the country since the epidemic began more than 40 years ago. The number globally tops 36 million people. About 1.2 million people are living with HIV in the United States. The number nears 38 million people worldwide.
The president spoke at the event of the progress made in the fight against AIDS — one he has observed from the earliest days of the illness as a member of Congress.
“I can recall — if you excuse the point of personal privilege — being, I think, in this very room when a senator, who is deceased now, so I don’t want to mention his name, because he can’t defend himself, but standing up and saying, along with another guy named Jerry Falwell, this is God’s punishment, paraphrase God’s punishment,” Biden said. “Finally, think how much has changed.”
Biden said his administration has taken specific steps to address the AIDS crisis in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. He has reestablished the White House Office of National AIDS Policy, which will be at the forefront of developing a strategy to end the AIDS epidemic.
Separately, the Department of Health and Human Services has directed $2.21 billion in Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program funding to HIV primary medical care, medication and essential support services.
And in 2022, the United States will release a new five-year strategy for PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.
“We’re going to engage in people with lived experience with HIV and ensure that our efforts are appropriate and effective and centered around the needs of the HIV community, not us,” the president added.
To mark the day, the White House hung a giant red ribbon from the North Portico.
Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said his department was working with others in the administration to eradicate the disease by focusing on parts of the country and communities where the illness is spreading fastest.
Becerra said the United States is leading the way in ending the epidemic. “The initiative is focused on ending this epidemic by 2030,” he said.
“We’ll provide additional support to the 50 jurisdictions where more than half of the country’s new HIV diagnoses occur, as well as seven states with a disproportionate recurrence of HIV in rural areas,” he added.
“It’s a plan to make sure that the latest advances in HIV prevention, diagnosis and treatment are available to everyone, regardless of age, race, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability or other factors,” Biden said.