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US defends Obama no-show at Aids talks

2012-07-19 22:28

Washington - President Barack Obama is steadfast in his aim to help stop the HIV/Aids epidemic despite his decision not to attend the International Aids Conference next week, a top health official said on Wednesday.

Answering critics who have slammed Obama for not attending the major world event, held for the first time in Washington in two decades, ambassador Eric Goosby said Obama will host a private event for conference attendees at the White House instead.

"President Obama's commitment to this issue really is summed up in 'actions speak louder than words,'" Goosby, the US Global Aids Coordinator, said in response to a reporter's question at a UNAids event to unveil a new report on the Aids epidemic.

"He has remained steadfast in his focus on HIV/Aids since the beginning of his administration."

Goosby said the United States has increased the number of people on antiretroviral treatment worldwide from 1.7 million to over four million currently.

He also stressed Obama's lifting of the ban on entry to the US by HIV-positive people in 2009, his end to the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy on gays in the military, and continued Aids funding despite fiscal hard times as evidence of his commitment.

"I can speak for the president. On Thursday he is having an event at the White House, so he will ask people to come from the conference to the White House," Goosby said.

"He will host, bring people into his own home and address the issues around the epidemic. But the issue that he mostly is interested in conveying is the sustained and increasing commitment of the United States to this effort."

Video message

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is scheduled to address the Aids conference on Monday at 14:00. Obama will send a video message, the White House has said.

UNAids executive director Michel Sidibe agreed and said Obama has continued the movement against Aids that was begun by his predecessor president George W Bush, who launched a major worldwide funding effort known as Pepfar (The President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief).

"President Obama took the decision to continue this movement," Sidibe said. "We have not seen a reduction in investment since President Obama took over."

The International Aids Conference is a major scientific meeting held every two years.

Expected to draw 25 000 people, the conference is returning to the United States for the first time in two decades after being kept away by a ban on US travel by HIV positive people.

The president of the Aids Healthcare Foundation, Michael Weinstein, lashed out at Obama earlier this week, noting that former presidents George W Bush and Bill Clinton have both appeared at past events.

"It is truly a sad day in history, a sadder day in the battle against Aids and a sad reflection on the Obama presidency," Weinstein said in a statement.