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Let’s Redouble our Commitment to Cure AIDS!

1 December, 2011 - The debate over the federal budget and deficit reduction gets more heated each year. But on this World AIDS Day, the benefits of federal investment in research are incontrovertible. As documented earlier this year, for the first time in history, a cure for AIDS is possible. One man’s HIV infection has been eradicated using a HIV-resistant immune cell transplant—a concept based on discoveries first made by researchers supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the 1990’s. For millions around the world this discovery is incredibly encouraging, despite the fact that this type of treatment would be difficult, costly, and too dangerous for widespread implementation. With the new scientific breakthrough, some of the smartest, most experienced scientists and new young investigators are employing cutting edge technologies and working tirelessly to discover and develop a safe, effective, feasible, and scalable HIV cure. We need Congress to increase funding for NIH for AIDS research in order to build on this momentum.

Investment in AIDS research at the NIH have paid enormous dividends in the health and wellbeing of people in the U.S. and around the world.It has also lead to discoveries for treatment of other diseases and conditions including viral hepatitis, heart disease, certain cancers, Alzheimer’s and other age-associated illnesses.

Despite these advances, the number of new HIV/AIDS cases continues to rise in various populations in the U.S. and around the world. Within the U.S. there are over one million HIV-infected people in the U.S., the highest number in the epidemic’s 30-year history. Further, America’s HIV epidemic is aging, researchers are estimating that more than 600,000 HIV-positive Americans will be over the age of 50 by the year 2015, even though people with HIV still face a shorter lifespan. Worldwide there are 34 million people worldwide living with HIV. For many,lifelong treatment is logistically difficult and expensive — only one third of people who need HIV treatments have access to them.

Increased funding for NIH makes good bipartisan economic sense,enabling research institutions to create jobs and drive economic growth. In every state across the country, the NIH supports research at hospitals, universities, and private enterprises that are essential to train the next generation of scientists and prepare them to make tomorrow’s discoveries. NIH funding puts 350,000 scientists to work at research institutions across the country. NIH supported research grants and technology transfers have resulted in the creation of thousands of new independent private sector companies. New research discoveries will allow doctors to conduct early screening and timely preventive care—measures that will help control healthcare expenditure, especially as the U.S. population ages—and provide broad health benefits to all.

A meaningful commitment towards ending the AIDS epidemic cannot be met without sufficient funding for the NIH.Since 2003, federal funding has failed to keep up with our existing research needs. Coupled with inflation, this has set back the success rate of approved grants and restricted promising new research. To continue down this path will undermine our nation’s status as the global leader in health research. The race to find better treatments and a cure for cancer, heart disease, AIDS and other diseases, and for controlling global epidemics like AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, all depend on a robust long term investment strategy for health research at NIH. We must not stop now.