Two days after the commemoration of World AIDS Day, the Clinton administration pledged to keep pressing to stop the spread of the virus that causes AIDS.
“We’ll continue to fight for better and more affordable prevention strategies, vaccines” and other products that can fend off the HIV virus, Vice President Al Gore said Tuesday during a photo session in the Oval Office. He was joined by administration officials who briefed President Clinton on progress in the AIDS fight.
Clinton, who deferred to Gore because of severe hoarseness, said only that he was pleased with progress made against AIDS during his first term and added, “I’m determined to keep pressing until we get a vaccine and ultimately a cure.”
The U.N. agency on AIDS reported last week that the global death toll from AIDS is accelerating, with one-fourth of all deaths occurring within the past year. So far this year, 3.1 million people have been infected with HIV.
AIDS is now the fourth leading killer of American women ages 25-44, and two-thirds were infected through sex.
Gore noted the promise of research on microbicides - gels or creams that women could use as protection in sexual intercourse with someone who might have HIV.
“With our partners in research, we will continue to knock down every barrier to the development of successful therapeutics, vaccines, and microbicides until we knock down the last barrier of all, the HIV virus itself,” Gore said.
Donna Shalala, the secretary of health and human services, told reporters later there had been a 40 percent increase in AIDS research that is supported by the National Institutes of Health during Clinton’s first term.
The AIDS activist group known as ACT UP issued a statement questioning the Clinton administration’s commitment to AIDS research. Tuesday’s photo-opportunity in the Oval Office was an attempt by Clinton to create the illusion that he is fostering more public-private coordination in AIDS research, said Steve Michael of ACT UP’s Washington office.
Michael said Clinton could take a useful step by elevating the Office of AIDS Policy to Cabinet level and appointing a prominent person to take the post.
The current head of the Office of AIDS Policy, Patricia Fleming, has decided not to stay for Clinton’s second term, Shalala said.