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U.S. to drop HIV ban, host 2012 AIDS meeting

*U.S. to end 22-year ban on HIV-positive visitors

*Officials commit to strengthen U.S. fight vs. HIV/AIDS

WASHINGTON, Nov 30 (Reuters) - The United States, which is preparing to lift a ban on visits by foreigners infected with HIV, will host a global AIDS conference in 2012 as a sign of redoubled U.S. commitment to fight the pandemic, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Tuesday.

"We have to continue to seek a global solution to this global problem," Clinton told a news briefing announcing the 2012 biannual conference would take place in Washington D.C., the first time it has been on U.S. soil since 1990.

The International AIDS Society, which organizes the conference, hailed the change and urged other nations that maintain bans on HIV-positive visitors to follow suit.

"The return of the conference to the United States is the result of years of dedicated advocacy to end a misguided policy based on fear, rather than science," IAS President-elect Elly Katabira said in a statement.

Clinton said the end of the ban on HIV-positive visitors to the United States, enacted 22 years ago, would take effect in early January and would be "vigorously" enforced.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said the end of the ban was an important shift.

"It was a policy that tore apart families, kept people from getting tested, forced others to hide their HIV status and forgo lifesaving medication ... and most of all it didn't reflect America's leadership in fighting the disease around the world," Sebelius told the news conference.

The AIDS virus infects 33 million people globally and around a million in the United States, but more people are living longer due to the availability of drugs, according to a recent United Nations report.

However, more than half of the people who need life-saving drugs are not getting them, according to the 2009 AIDS epidemic update by the World Health Organization and Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS.

Cocktails of drugs can control HIV but there is no cure.

While the Obama administration has vowed to continue the President's Emergency Program for AIDS Relief or PEPFAR, launched during the Bush administration, some AIDS activists have voiced concern that the issue may not get as much attention as Washington confronts a raft of other global problems.

Eric Goosby, the new U.S. global AIDS coordinator, told the news conference that a full report plotting the future of PEPFAR would be issued later this week and would show expanded U.S. support for the world battle against HIV/AIDS.

(reporting by Andrew Quinn; editing by Maggie Fox)

Washington newsroom +1 202 898 8300

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