December 6, 1995
Web posted at: 9:35 a.m. EST
From White House Correspondent Claire Shipman
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Clinton hosts the federal government's first conference on AIDS Wednesday at a time when there are both promising developments about the disease and evidence it is spreading.
AIDS activist Eileen Mitzman is among those attending the White House conference who hope for presidential leadership on an issue they call a national emergency. (196K AIFF sound or 196K WAV sound) Mitzman's 26-year-old daughter died of AIDS four years ago. Since then, Mitzman has been on a crusade, telling everyone who will listen that they, too, are vulnerable.
White House officials point to their accomplishments to date: more money for AIDS research, support for critical legislation, creation of a respected AIDS advisory council and government-sponsored AIDS awareness ads. (391K QuickTime movie) But presidential advisors understand that it's Clinton's ability to tell the country why it should care that may make the most difference.
"I would argue that this president has done more than any previous president -- all of the previous presidents in combination," said Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala. "But it still is not enough and that is the importance of the conference. The president is conceding it is not enough and stepping out again with his own leadership."
Advisors say that when the president addresses the conference he'll hit hard on the need to protect Medicaid because 95 percent of children with AIDS rely on the program. Clinton also will announce a number of initiatives, including asking government agencies to consolidate research and directing the vice president to try to bring public and private projects together.
The conference is an effort to reach out to AIDS activists and, to a lesser extent, the gay community. The administration also is taking pains to avoid any insults to participants. A meeting of gays and lesbian leaders at the White House drew protests earlier in the year when some Secret Service agents wore surgical gloves to search visitors bags.
But with AIDS now the leading cause of death among 25- to 44-year-olds, many leaders of the AIDS struggle argue the administration has not kept its campaign promise to battle the disease aggressively. They do, however, applaud a public boost from the president. It's not just a "gay issue" anymore, said James Loyce of AIDS Project Los Angeles. That's a message Mitzman intends to make sure everyone hears. (247K AIFF sound or 247K WAV sound)
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