July 16, 2012
President Obama will prepare a video message for attendees at the 19th International AIDS Conference in lieu of making a live appearance at the event, according to the White House.
In a notice issued on Monday, the White House announced that Obama is set to provide a brief video message for the conference, which will take place next week in D.C., as part of “[c]ontinuing his personal engagement on this issue.” Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, confirmed this video message will be in lieu of a live appearance at the event.
“The president will not be speaking at the conference,” Inouye said. “He will provide a brief video message to welcome Conference attendees from around the world to Washington.”
Organizers for the conference had invited the president to deliver remarks at the event as HIV/AIDS advocates had publicly expressed their desire to see him make an appearance and call for an end to the epidemic. They also wanted him to talk about achievements of his administration, such as laying out the first-ever National AIDS Strategy and creating more opportunities to cover people with HIV/AIDS under the Medicaid expansion of the health care reform law.
The statement announcing the video message touts the Obama administration’s efforts at combatting HIV/AIDS.
“Under the president’s leadership, the administration has increased overall funding to combat HIV/AIDS to record levels,” the statement says. “We have launched the first comprehensive National HIV/AIDS Strategy for the United States to prevent and treat HIV in America. Globally, the Obama Administration has committed to treating 6 million people by the end of 2013 and is increasing the impact and sustainability of our investments.”
According to the statement, the White House will also host a reception on July 26 to honor people living with HIV and to thank individuals who have fought against the disease.
Other high-ranking administration officials are set to attend the event, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius; U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator Ambassador Eric Goosby; Director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy Grant Colfax; and Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health.
Former President Clinton is slated to speak as is former first lady Laura Bush; former President George W. Bush, who set up the fund known as U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, was invited to speak but hadn’t responded to the invitation as of Tuesday, according to organizers.
HIV/AIDS advocates had varying reactions in response to Obama’s decision to prepare a video message as opposed to making an appearance at the event.
Brian Hujdich, executive director of HealthHIV, expressed disappointment, but appreciated that the president would address attendees via video.
“While we are disappointed that President Obama will be unable to address the International AIDS Conference in person, his decision to address attendees via video demonstrates the importance he places on AIDS 2012 and HIV,” Hujdich said. “As the first president to set a comprehensive National HIV/AIDS Strategy and pass meaningful healthcare reform, his commitment to addressing HIV prevention care and treatment is strongly demonstrated.”
Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, called Obama’s decision not to attend “a kick in the teeth” to attendees.
“It’s less than a mile from the White House to the convention center,” Weinstein said. “He’s flying back into town on Friday night. I think he’s making an intentional statement by not attending, and he’s either waiting for a better offer or he doesn’t feel like he’d get a good reception and doesn’t want to expose himself to that, or he’s consciously wanting to [let it be] known that this is not a priority for him, which he’s done a pretty good job at for the last three-and-a-half years.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story reported that President George W. Bush was confirmed to speak. He was invited to speak but as of Tuesday, he had not responded to the invitation, organizers told the Blade.