WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama announced a new initiative at the National Institutes of Health in pursuit of a cure for HIV, saying his administration is redirecting $100 million into the project to find a new generation of therapies.
“The United States should be at the forefront of new discoveries into how to put HIV into long-term remission without requiring lifelong therapies, or better yet, eliminate it completely,” Obama said.
Obama made the announcement Monday at a White House event marking World AIDS Day, which was Sunday — and as health leaders and philanthropists gathered in Washington to determine how to replenish the major global health fund that combats AIDS and two of the world’s other leading killers in low-income countries.
Obama pledged that the U.S. would contribute up to $5 billion over the next three years to The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria — as long as other countries do their part and contribute $10 billion. The U.S. matches contributions to the Geneva-based Global Fund on a 1-to-2 funding ratio set by Congress.
“Don’t leave our money on the table,” Obama said Monday.
The Global Fund is trying to raise $15 billion to cover its programs from 2014 to 2016. The fund supports HIV therapy for more than 5 million people, as well as treatments for tuberculosis and malaria, and the distribution of insecticide-treated bed nets.
Also Monday, billionaire Bill Gates said he planned to nearly double his foundation’s contribution to this next round of the Global Fund, to $500 million. Gates had already pledged $300 million, but told a small group of reporters at the National Institutes of Health that he would match an additional $200 million from private sources in an effort to draw in new donors.
Gates donned a biohazard suit and respirator for a close-up look at how NIH scientists are hunting new therapies for increasingly drug-resistant tuberculosis. He emerged from the laboratory energized about promising candidates — but with a sober message for policymakers: Defeating global killers like TB and AIDS requires adequate funding of both the delivery of today’s treatments and the research required for better ones.
“We’re deeply disappointed” in cuts to the NIH’s budget, Gates said.
Earlier this year, NIH lost $1.5 billion of its $31 billion budget to automatic spending cuts known as the sequester, after years of budgets that didn’t keep up with inflation. NIH is scheduled to lose another $600 million from a second round of sequester cuts set to take effect next month. That in turn limits how much the NIH can devote to different diseases.
“Investing in research has huge paybacks,” Gates said.