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Lee urges commitment on AIDS funding

The Obama Administration should pledge $6 billion over three years to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, Rep. Barbara Lee said today.

Lee, D-Oakland, held a teleconference with reporters this morning after having returned to Washington, D.C., last night from the XVIII International AIDS Conference in Vienna, Austria. She’s the only member of Congress to visit the biennial conference, and said she regretted being able to stay only two days.

Lee is circulating a letter urging President Barack Obama to commit to funding both the Global Fund and the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), both of which were created under legislation she co-authored in 2000 and 2003, respectively.

”So far we have probably about 65 members of Congress on board and I’m working to get at least 100 if not more,” she said. “If we don’t provide additional funding for both of these programs, then we could face some potentially dangerous problems in the field.”

Progress has been made under these programs in controlling the spread of HIV/AIDS and other deadly diseases, she said, but failing to fund them now could mean losing that control. Things are potentially dire on the domestic front, too, she said: She praised President Obama’s rollout last week of the nation’s first-ever National AIDS Strategy, but said more funding is needed to eliminate waiting lists for life-saving drugs right here in the United States.

“It’s going to be an uphill battle but we have to do it,” she said. “This really is about quality of life and saving lives.”

Lee said the 2012 AIDS Conference is scheduled to be held in Washington, D.C., the first conference in the U.S. since 1990’s meeting in San Francisco; the 2008 PEPFAR reauthorization included language by Lee to remove an HIV travel and immigration ban and led to Obama’s elimination of that ban last year, clearing the way for the conference’s return. Lee said she’s hoping to host a pre-conference planning session in Oakland.

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Barbara Lee: We need a domestic war on AIDS

Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, is the only member of Congress attending the 17th Annual International AIDS Conference, now in progress in Mexico City.

Lee coauthored the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) back in 2003, as well as the recent reauthorization which puts $48 billion toward helping millions of people living with and affected by HIV/AIDS around the world. She told me this afternoon she wishes progress in fighting the disease here in the United States would be so successful.

New figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show the number of cases reported annually in the U.S. is as high as 56,300, far exceeding old estimate of 40,000. And according to a new report from the Black Aids Institute, if Black America were its own country it would rank 16th worldwide in the number of people infected, more than in Botswana, Côte d’Ivoire, Lesotho or Swaziland.

“It’s time for a domestic PEPFAR,” she told me today, the conference’s hustle and bustle audible behind her voice on her cell phone. “We’re talking about minimally $1.3 billion, and I’m saying we need billions more.”

See more of what Lee said about what we’ve done so far, and what we need to do, after the jump… Continue Reading