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Welcome to "Ask the White House" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to Administration Officials and friends of the White House. Visit the "Ask the White House" archives to read other discussions with White House officials.

Today's guest: Dr. Joseph O'Neill, Director of the Office of National AIDS Policy

Dr. Joseph O'Neill
May 27, 2003

Dr. O'Neill
I'm happy to be here today to answer questions on the President's Global AIDS Initiative.

Joe, from Doylestown, OH writes:
What kind of qualifications does it take to be the Director of National AIDS Policy?

Dr. O'Neill
Probably the most important qualification is a deep commitment to the HIV/AIDS epidemic and people impacted by it. President Bush is very concerned about HIV/AIDS both here and abroad, it was important to him that the person in this job share his passion for fighting AIDS and have the medical background to give him the best advice.

Mark, from Seattle, Washington writes:
Dr. O'Neill, what role will technology take on in the fight against AIDS?

Dr. O'Neill
We will be increasingly employing technology in this fight. One example is the use of tele-health in training and supporting doctors and nurses who are taking care of patients. Obvious, the development of new drugs is dependent on technology as well

Richard, from Washington, DC writes:
I recently read that there are some African countries where as much as 20-30% of the population is infected with AIDS. How does your organization fit in with the worldwide effort to stop the spread of AIDS and find a cure?

Dr. O'Neill
The United States government is at the lead in the global fight against AIDS. We have provided a huge proportion of the resources that are available today in this fight. We work closely with our colleagues from other countries and with multilateral organizations like the United Nations and World Health Organization. President Bush will be traveling to the G-8 summit in France later this week and will be asking leaders of the other nations to equal our investment in this epidemic.

Karen, from Virginia writes:
What kinds of things could the faith-based community do to help in HIVAIDS, in both the United States and overseas?

Dr. O'Neill
The faith based community has been a major resource in the fight against HIV/AIDS both domestically and globally. Faith based organizations can minister to the sick, support orphan children and provide treatment. In his speech today, for example, the President recognized the work of the Catholic Medical Mission Board. They support maternal-child HIV prevention programs across Africa. This new initiative will greatly expand the capability of faith based organizations to respond to this epidemic. Another important area for faith based organizations is in stigma reduction: helping people affected by HIV be accepted into their communities.

Kim, from Western Kentucky writes:
Hi Dr. O'Neill, I am so glad that the President is addressing this issue, and that the AIDS Policy is giving assistance in Africa where the disease is so epidemic. What is the general mood of Europe in helping with this cause? Will the President have his work cut out for him when he goes there this week? Thank you, and good luck to President Bush!

Dr. O'Neill
I think we will know more about the mood in Europe when the President returns from France. No country has come near making the investment in global HIV/AIDS that the United States has. We are hoping that other nations, equally blessed, will step up to the plate and join us in this fight.

Kellen, from Spencerport, New York writes:
What is the most effective way to limit the spread of HIV internationally and how is the new Global AIDS Initiative going to do this?

Dr. O'Neill
Just as we need combination therapies to treat this illness, we need combination approaches to prevention as well. Clearly, abstinence based "ABC" approaches have been successful and this initiative supports this model. It is important that, whatever approach is taken, good solid evaluation is done so that, from a scientific perspective, we understand what works and what doesn't. Additionally, the discovery of an effective vaccine is obviously key to stopping this epidemic. We are making record investments in finding one.

jennifer, from hickory, nc writes:
I have a few questions 1In trying to combat AIDS, how do you determine how to divide resources between treatment and prevention?

Dr. O'Neill
Each country will approach this somewhat differently. In places where there is a relatively low prevalence of HIV a greater proportion of resources may be spent on prevention. When you are faced with a situation, however, where there is a large number of infected people and we know that we have treatments that can help them, treatment becomes a critical issue. It also makes sense that it is difficult to do a maximally effective job of prevention in these settings if treatment is not available.

Jocelyn, from Ephrata, Pennsylvania writes:
What is the main part of your job?

Dr. O'Neill
I have a great job. I work on an important issue and for a President who is passionate about doing something about it. A great deal of my time is spent educating concerned individuals about HIV/AIDS. In recent months this has been with members of Congress, members of the Administration, and the public. I do a fair amount of writing and policy development and manage the maternal child transmission initiative. And, of course, every Friday morning I put on my stethoscope and white coat and practice medicine seeing AIDS patients.

Carlos, from San Diego, CA writes:
What can U.S. citizens do to help with the effort to fight global AIDS?

Dr. O'Neill
Most important is to be aware of HIV/AIDS in your own community and to do what you can to respond. It may be as simple as reaching out to an affected family in your church or neighborhood to break down stigma. Secondly, ongoing support for the President's initiative is key. Congress needs to hear from Americans that they support this use of tax dollars. Be informed of what is going on globally. Finally, the President recently announced an initiative called "Volunteers for Prosperity" which allows skilled professionals to volunteer their time and talent to worthy activities around the world. To find more information go to:

Nelson, from Seattle, WA writes:
Hi Dr. O'Neil, my question for you is who will monitor the distribution of the AIDS relief assistance to make sure that the victims and families are the one receiving such relief. Thank you.

Dr. O'Neill
Monitoring of these funds will be the responsibility of the Global AIDS Coordinator at the Department of State. All of us in the Administration, however, hold ourselves responsible to make sure that these funds are spent wisely and effectively.

Linda, from Toledo, Ohio writes:
Will the signing of this bill and this funding also help people here in the United States who are suffering from HIVAIDS?

Dr. O'Neill
This bill is focused on the global HIV issue. I use the word "global" rather than "international" deliberately because it implies that we are affected here in the US by what goes on in other parts of the world. By helping other countries, we create a stronger, more stable world and a world where hope replaces despair. This can only help the US. The President has requested a seven percent increase in domestic HIV/AIDS spending as well.

Sheila, from Wheaton, Illinois writes:
When do you see the money being appropriated for this new law? In other words, what is the impact of the appropriation process on the implementation of this new law?

Dr. O'Neill
The appropriation process is just beginning. We are working hard with our colleagues in Congress to make this promise a reality. The President has requested $2 billion dollars for FY 2004. Let’s hope that the same bipartisan spirit that allowed this bill to get to the President’s desk today will prevail in the appropriations process. Our goal is to have the funds in hand by October 2003, the beginning of the FY 2004 fiscal year.

K.J., from Baltimore, MD writes:
What advances have come about in recent years that make AIDS patients have a better chance at living a longer, healthier life? Has the research that caused these advances been funded by the U.S. government?

Dr. O'Neill
The big change has been the introduction of highly active antiretroviral treatment. These medications, largely supported by Federal research dollars and research based pharmaceutical companies (as opposed to generic companies) have allowed people living with HIV to live longer, healthier and productive lives.

Debbie, from Connecticut writes:
Why must we spend so much money to help other countries with AIDS treatments, when that money could be used here in the US for research, prevention and treatment? I don't understand that the US will be receiving 1.5 billion, and we are to fund 15 billion?

Dr. O'Neill
We will spend $16.1 billion on domestic AIDS this year - including research. That is slightly more that we will spend in five years for the rest of the world.

Merson, from Kansas City writes:
It seems to me that abstinence should be the focus of any fight against AIDS. Why not a stronger focus in that direction?

Dr. O'Neill
There is a very strong focus on abstinence in this initiative. The White House strongly supported language that insures that a significant percentage of prevention funds in this program will be directed to abstinence programs.

Larry, from Bethesda writes:
This is a good step forward. As you know, this is a huge and long-term issue. Are there further announcements, plans?

Dr. O'Neill
The President will soon be announcing his nominee for the position of Global AIDS Coordinator. Additionally, over the next few months we will be moving to implement this initiative in the most rapid and responsible way possible. There will be announcements along the way as this unfolds.

Steven, from Washington, DC writes:
Dr. O' there a maximum amount that the U.S. can contribute. I fear that this will be a U.S.-only initiative

Dr. O'Neill
Yes, our contribution to the global fund is limited by the law signed by President Bush today to 33% of all contributions.

Taina, from Bronx writes:
Dr. O'Neill, We read about the ravages of AIDS and other killer diseases, but has there been any progress? Is any message program actually working? Thanks

Dr. O'Neill
Yes, there is great progress. New treatments that prolong people's lives will finally be available to poor people around the world because of President Bush's initiative. There are also advances in prevention - Uganda has been successful in reducing spread by implementation of an "ABC" - abstinence, be faithful, use condoms - approach.

Dr. O'Neill
Thank you, I enjoyed answering these questions. I look forward to doing this again.

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