General Articles

World AIDS Day 2011: Getting to Zero

On December 1, 2011, World AIDS Day, President Barack Obama and former presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton joined together to demonstrate bipartisan support for increased funding for HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment both domestically and internationally. The presidents, along with Bono, humanitarian and lead singer of the band U2, Tanzania’s president Jakaya Kikwete, and singer Alicia Keys, were part of a forum at George Washington University organized by the ONE Campaign; they gathered both in person and via satellite to remark on the global AIDS pandemic, particularly the successes thus far and the increased efforts that will be implemented in the future.[1]
At the forum President Obama announced his administration’s commitment “to ending the AIDS pandemic once and for all” and pledged to fight HIV “today, tomorrow, every day until we get to zero,” a reflection of the 2011 World AIDS Day theme, “Getting to Zero.” President Obama committed another $50 million for U.S.-based programs; he designated $15 million for the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program that supports community-based organizations that provide HIV services, as well as an additional $35 million for the state-based AIDS Drug Assistance Programs.[2] He also set a new goal of reaching six million people with treatment globally by the end of 2013, a significant increase from the original goal of four million.[3]
During his speech, President Obama also called on the global community, Congress, and Americans as a whole to “keep fighting.”[4] He specifically mentioned that countries that have already committed to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria need to give the amounts they promised, while countries that have yet to pledge need to do so. Furthermore, he urged Congress to stay united around the fight against AIDS, even when so many other issues divide it. Finally, he called on all Americans to “fight for every person who needs your help today but also fight for every person who didn’t live to see this moment.”[5]
President Obama’s call to Congress was also echoed by Bono, founder of the ONE Campaign, and former president Bush. In an opinion piece in the New York Times, Bono applauded the United States as the leader in the fight against AIDS to reach “the tipping point we have been campaigning for,” where there is talk of the end of the pandemic, and research demonstrates what specific measures need to be taken to further cut the AIDS rate. He further added that budget cuts and partisan divides, which are some of the strongest and most divisive issues in American politics today, should not impede measures to continue the fight against AIDS.[6] At the forum, President Bush also remarked that both Congress and Americans need to continue to support the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, which was launched during his presidency and funds HIV/AIDS testing and treatment worldwide.[7]
This year’s theme, “Getting to Zero,” echoed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s speech given in early November, where she set a goal of an “AIDS-free generation.”[8] This theme may be especially important in the United States; while the HIV rate has decreased internationally, the U.S. infection rate has stayed constant for the past decade.[9] “There are communities in this country being devastated by this disease,” said President Obama, specifically mentioning gay black men, Latinos, and black women.[10]
These remarks from World AIDS Day speak to the need to develop a sexually healthy population. “To get to zero and create the first sexually healthy generation, we must work at the intersection of and actively engage with all the relevant communities in the fight against HIV/AIDS. We must also address such related issues as the health and rights of socially and economically disenfranchised populations and finally putting an end to racial and ethnic health disparities and discrimination,” comments Monica Rodriguez, president and CEO of the Sexuality Information and Education Coucil of the United States in a statement made on World AIDS Day. “Now is the time to make the vision of sexual rights and social justice a reality.”[11]

[1] Susan Crabtree, “Obama, Bush, Clinton Unite in Fight gainst HIV and AIDS,” Washington Times, 1 December 2011, accessed 5 December 2011, <>.

[2] Aamer Madhani, “Obama Calls on Americans to Step Up Fight against AIDS,” USA Today, 1 December 2011, accessed 5 December 2011, <>.; “About the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program,” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, accessed 6 December 2011, <>.

[3] Madhani, “Obama Calls on Americans.”

[4] Barack Obama, “Remarks by the President on World AIDS Day,” 1 December 2011, accessed 5 December 2011, <>.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Bono, “A Decade of Progress,” New York Times, 30 November 2011, accessed 5 December 2011, <>.

[7] Madhani, “Obama Calls on Americans.”

[8] Obama, “Remarks by the President on World AIDS Day.”

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, “Getting to Zero by Creating the First-ever Sexually Healthy Generation,” Press Release published 1 December 2011, accessed 6 December 2011, <>.