U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says that science and public health advances now allow the world to "imagine a time when we will no longer be afflicted" by the global HIV/AIDS epidemic.
The top U.S. diplomat was speaking at the 2012 International AIDS conference, which has brought more than 20,000 scientists, activists, politicians, and celebrities from 195 countries to Washington.
AIDS has killed 30 million people globally over the last three decades.
Despite advances against HIV and AIDS, Clinton also warned that sex workers, gay men, and others at high risk of contracting the virus are being marginalized in much of the world, including Eastern Europe, which is helping the virus spread:
"Unfortunately, today, very few countries monitor the quality of services delivered to these high-risk, key populations," Clinton said. "Fewer still rigorously assess whether the services provide actually prevent transmission or do anything to ensure that HIV-positive people in these groups get the care and treatment that they need.
"Even worse, some take actions that, rather than discouraging risky behavior, actually drives more people into the shadows, where the epidemic is that much harder to fight. And the consequences are devastating."
The week-long conference, which opened on July 22, has been marked by calls for a redoubled global effort to combat HIV/AIDS amid concern that funding is lagging behind need and increasingly threatened by governments' belt-tightening.
Infections Dropping Slowly
According to the UN, some 34.2 million people are infected with HIV worldwide.
While infections are dropping slowly, 2.5 million are still infected every year.
The world spent $16.8 billion fighting AIDS in poor countries, the hardest-hit, last year. But that's still $7 billion a year less than the amount needed to nearly double the 8 million people getting life-saving drugs by the world's target date of 2015.
Ahead of the conference, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for greater efforts to combat the spread of HIV in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, in particular.
Eastern Europe and Central Asia continue to have one of the highest HIV infection rates, with infections up 22 percent since 2005. There are 1.5 million people living with HIV in these regions, with 170,000 new cases reported in 2011.
Later this week, the conference will discuss new frontiers in treatment and prevention.
The conference returns to the United States this year for the first time since 1990. It was held in other locations in protest at a U.S. travel ban on HIV-positive people, in effect since 1987.
That measure was revoked by U.S. President Barack Obama in 2010.
With reporting by AP, dpa, and AFP