Officials Forum: California Leading Extraordinary Accomplishments in AIDS Research

Written by

U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee
U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee U.S. Representative Barbara Lee has been a leader in the fight against the global HIV/AIDS pandemic. She co-authored legislation signed into law creating the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), and legislation addressing the needs of orphans and vulnerable children affected by HIV/AIDS. She has also been a leader in the effort to establish a National AIDS Strategy, and is a member of the Appropriations subcommittee with jurisdiction over all domestic HIV/AIDS funding. She is the only U.S. representative on United Nations Development Programme’s Global Commission on HIV and the Law and was the original sponsor of legislation that lead to the repeal of the Immigration and Travel ban that barred the entry of HIV positive individuals. The repeal allowed the International AIDS Conference - scheduled for July 2012 in Washington DC - the first to be held in the U.S. for 20 years.

California has been a powerful force in our 30 year fight against HIV.  The demands of early activists from this state played a central role in the U.S. government investing in AIDS research. It was the only way to save the many lives hanging in the balance.

So often I meet up with long-time California AIDS activists.  We rejoice that for millions around the world, AIDS is becoming a manageable disease rather than a death sentence.  We are hopeful that promising research will eliminate new HIV infections in children.  We are overjoyed with the return of the 2012 International AIDS Conference to U.S. soil for the first time in two decades, which was only made possible by the reversal of the HIV travel and immigration ban in 2008.  I am proud to have played an important role in overturning this discriminatory ban.

The United States has been the global leader in research to prevent and treat HIV/AIDS. Our investments in research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have paid enormous dividends in the health and well-being of people in the U.S. and around the world. More than a quarter-century of federally funded research into the virus that causes AIDS has produced breakthrough after breakthrough. This research has saved millions of lives, but the story is far from over.

We have seen the first results that give momentum in the scientific sleuthing to find a vaccine.  The scientific community is reinvigorated by the remarkable case of “Berlin Patient” Timothy Brown – an American diagnosed with leukemia who appears to have been cured of HIV infection. We must follow through on those promising findings for improved prevention and treatment, while continuing to search for a cure.

We also face tremendous challenges.  HIV/AIDS remains the greatest humanitarian crisis of our time, and we must continue to combat it.  I have seen the devastation in Oakland and throughout California, where African Americans and other minorities and high-risk groups are disproportionately affected.  I have seen the despair in sub-Saharan Africa, where women and children are the most vulnerable victims.

Research and development is also a critical part of a global health economic engine that is supporting some 350,000 jobs statewide.  In 2010, California academic institutions and research facilities were the recipients of thousands of grants from the NIH that totaled more than $3.3 billion and created more than 62,000 jobs.

Maintaining this vital effort supports hundreds of thousands of jobs, but that is just the tip of the iceberg.  We may very well be on the verge of a treatment or vaccine that would eradicate HIV and could begin to end the global AIDS crisis.  This would prevent an untold number of HIV cases worldwide, saving trillions of dollars in future health care costs and millions of lives around the world.  Moreover, the benefits of HIV/AIDS research extend far beyond helping those people at risk for or living with HIV, including combating an array of other diseases and conditions such as cancer, heart disease and hepatitis.

With federal and state budget cuts looming large, the future of funding for AIDS research and the NIH remains critically important—as does support for ongoing prevention, care and treatment efforts, including Ryan White programs and Medicaid that provide economic security and access to health services for millions of Americans.

As Congress is looking to trim the mounting federal deficit, we must remember that cuts have devastating human impact. And in California which has the second highest number of AIDS cases in the nation, severe budget cuts to HIV/AIDS programs threaten to reverse decades of progress our communities have made.

We must not forget our history – especially our history of struggle and despair against AIDS in California and throughout the world.  All of us who care about making AIDS history must stand united and fight to support critical research to once and for all eradicate HIV off the face of the earth.

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