In a move that has even the international community scratching its collective head, President Barack Obama has turned down repeated requests to attend the 19th International AIDS Conference taking place at the Washington Convention Center next week, reports Politico.com.
Instead, he has designated Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, and other Obama administration officials to attend the event. Former President Bill Clinton and former first lady Laura Bush will also speak at the conference.
This is the first time that the conference has taken place in the United States since 1990. Though former President George W. Bush did not travel overseas for the conference during his 2-term administration, Tom Myers, chief of public affairs and general counsel for the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, expressed deepened concern about President Obama’s conspicuous absence:
“We are here to express our concern and dismay that, less than two weeks from the start of the conference, President Obama has yet to commit to attending it,” Myers said last week. “In the 20-odd year history of this conference, it is virtually obligatory for the head of state of the host nation to address the conference at its opening.”
As reported by Politico, President Obama is also coming under fire for proposed 2013 cuts to the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) budget — a ground-breaking initiative begun under former President Bush. Still, the Obama administration has defended the president’s record:
“Under the President’s leadership, the Administration has increased overall funding to combat HIV/AIDS to record levels. We have launched the first comprehensive National HIV/AIDS Strategy for the United States to prevent and treat HIV in America. Globally, the Obama Administration has committed to treating 6 million people by the end of 2013 and is increasing the impact and sustainability of our investments,” said the White House in a statement.
As previously reported by NewsOne, HIV/AIDS continues to devastate the Black community. Even as numbers improve, the battle is one of special and urgent concern to Black America.
According to data compiled by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the numbers are staggering:
African Americans face the most severe burden of HIV of all racial/ethnic groups in the United States (US). Despite representing only 14 percent of the U.S. population in 2009, African Americans accounted for 44 percent of all new HIV infections in that year. Compared with members of other races and ethnicities, African Americans account for a higher proportion of HIV infections at all stages of disease — from new infections to deaths.
In 2009, Black men accounted for 70 percent of the estimated new HIV infections among all Blacks. The estimated rate of new HIV infection for Black men was more than six and a half times as high as that of White men, and two and a half times as high as that of Latino men or Black women.
In 2009, Black men who have sex with men (MSM) represented an estimated 73 percent of new infections among all Black men and 37 percent among all MSM. More new HIV infections occurred among young Black MSM (aged 13–29) than any other age and racial group of MSM. In addition, new HIV infections among young Black MSM increased by 48 percent from 2006–2009.