US defends Obama no-show at AIDS conference
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 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 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."
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is scheduled to address the AIDS conference on Monday at 10:00 am (1400 GMT).
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."