By Andrew Quinn
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States is ready to shift the focus of its global AIDS programs from emergency medical support to building sustainable health systems, U.S. officials said on Monday as they announced that Washington would host the world AIDS conference in 2012.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the Obama administration was strengthening its commitment to fighting AIDS and would take a first step early next year by ending a longtime ban on HIV-positive foreign visitors.
"We have to make sure that our programs foster conditions that improve people's lives and in turn promote stability, prosperity and security," Clinton told a meeting to announce the decision to bring the 2012 world AIDS conference to Washington, the first time it will be held on U.S. soil since 1990.
"The return of the conference to the United States is the result of years of dedicated advocacy to end a misguided policy based on fear, rather than science," International AIDS Society President-elect Elly Katabira said in a statement.
Clinton and other officials said the broader change would center on PEPFAR, the $18.8 billion program begun by former President George W. Bush, which has become the largest international health initiative dedicated to a single disease.
Eric Goosby, President Barack Obama's global AIDS coordinator, said he would announce later this week a five-year strategy for PEPFAR that would see the emphasis shift from emergency interventions such as providing drugs to longer-term efforts to improve basic healthcare services.
DETAILS TO COME
Goosby said his review would include details of how PEPFAR will work with international partners and recipient governments to improve healthcare delivery and address stigma and discrimination in a "global response to a global responsibility."
The AIDS virus infects 33 million people globally and about a million in the United States, but more people are living longer thanks to HIV drugs, according to a recent U.N. report.
But more than half the people who need lifesaving drugs are not getting them, the World Health Organization and Joint U.N. Program on HIV/AIDS say.
Cocktails of drugs can control HIV but there is no cure and no vaccine.
PEPFAR, the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, has been credited with helping to cut AIDS deaths by 10 percent in targeted African nations and saving more than a million lives, in large part by supplying HIV drugs.
The program has been less successful in reducing the number of people infected with the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, the researchers found.
Some activists voiced fears that Obama -- beset by problems ranging from the U.S. economy to the war in Afghanistan -- would be unable to follow through with the same level of commitment on AIDS.
"There are worrisome signs the U.S. government is considering a significant slowing in the scale-up of global AIDS prevention and treatment," Chris Collins, vice president of the American Foundation for AIDS Research, said in a statement.
"We need to increase overall investment in global health, not shift resources from one priority to another," he said.
(Reporting by Andrew Quinn; Editing by Maggie Fox and Peter Cooney)