amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research

President Obama's New $5 Billion Investment: A Welcome Boost for HIV/AIDS Research

By Kevin Robert Frost
CEO, amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research


October 1, 2009 - President Barack Obama’s announcement on Wednesday that his administration has allocated $5 billion in medical research grants through the Recovery Act is welcome news not only for scientists, but for the American and global populations that will benefit from the breakthroughs and discoveries this investment will inevitably bring about.

It was especially heartening to hear President Obama specifically mention HIV/AIDS in his speech, and to see that the White House statement about the research grants lists HIV/AIDS research as an area that will receive some of the funds. Given the size, scope, and challenges of the epidemic in the United States and abroad, this funding will give a much-needed boost to the federal government's flagging investment in AIDS research. 

At amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research, we have long understood that the end of the AIDS epidemic will come only through research. 

Time and again we have seen our investments in AIDS research pay off with the development and testing of prevention interventions and the discovery of powerful new treatments for people living with HIV. For example, it was through research that we were able to nearly eradicate mother-to-child HIV transmission in most developed nations. In the developing world, we continue to fall short in making this available to all pregnant women, but nearly half of all pregnant women in need now receive the medications, up from only 15% just a few short years ago.

The news last week that an HIV vaccine candidate showed moderate efficacy in a clinical trial in Thailand represents an important step forward in prevention research. We and other HIV/AIDS research advocates hope that the information generated by the study can be used to inform the development of a vaccine that will one day be capable of preventing the further spread of HIV infection. But we still have a long way to go.

This is where President Obama’s announcement about funding comes in. The National Institutes of Health (NIH), which will receive much of the grant money, has played an instrumental role in HIV/AIDS research over the years and it paid for much of the cost of the Thailand-based vaccine trial. While research organizations such as amfAR have an important role to play, an effective solution to the global AIDS epidemic is unlikely to be realized without robust and sustained leadership from the NIH -- and the necessary investment that goes with it. 

According to Dr. Francis Collins, the new director of the NIH, flat funding combined with inflation has resulted in nearly a 20% loss in buying power for NIH over the past five years. In 2007, the Institutes were able to support just over one in five (21%) research proposals as opposed to nearly one in three (32%) in 2001, and funded grants are routinely cut by 10% or more. The result is numerous missed opportunities to capitalize on innovative and potentially breakthrough research proposals. 

As I look back over the nearly 25 years that amfAR has been in existence and at the strides we have helped make against the AIDS epidemic through innovative research, I am thankful that the President understands that a renewed government effort to fund research will continue to change lives. And I hope that this $5 billion investment is only the beginning.  Such leadership would be a lasting legacy of his administration and a model for presidents who follow. 


This op-ed also appeared in The Huffington Post