Today is World AIDS Day. Around the world, hundreds of groups are organizing thousands of events to raise money, increase awareness, fight prejudice, improve access to treatment and prevention and enhance AIDS education. This year’s sub-theme — ‘Lead- Empower- Deliver‘ — is meant to “highlight the fact that many individuals and organizations have already offered up their leadership skills, and now policy makers need to find the resources to deliver on their promises. The campaign is calling on everyone, including families, communities, civil society organizations, and governments to take the initiative in helping meet the target goals.”
Some in the activist community have praised President Bush for supporting “life-saving antiretroviral treatment for over 2.1 million men, women and children living with HIV/AIDS around the world, including more than two million people in Sub Saharan Africa.” In fact, today Bush is receiving the first “International Medal of PEACE” award for his efforts to fight HIV/AIDS worldwide through the PEPFAR initiative.
And while Bush undoubtedly deserves credit for aggressively tackling the problem of AIDS, his ideological insistence on refusing to fund contraception and forbidding family planning organizations for using their own funds to provide contraception or abortion services has hampered AIDS workers’ efforts and cost lives.
President-elect Barack Obama promises to reverse some of Bush’s restrictive funding policies, but his administration will also face daunting domestic challenges:
- Every 9.5 minutes, someone in the United States is infected with HIV. Every 33 minutes, someone in the U.S. dies from AIDS.
- AIDS is the number one killer for black women between the ages of 25 and 34.
- 53% of new HIV infections in 2006 occurred in gay and bisexual men of all races and ethnicities.
- A total of 56,300 people in the United States were newly infected with HIV in 2006, a number 40 percent higher than previously estimated.
- African Americans, who make up only 12 percent of the U.S. population, now make up more than 45 percent of new infections.
- Only 4 percent of the current share of HIV/AIDS domestic funding is devoted to prevention programs.
While fighting AIDS around the world, the next administration must also seriously address the root causes of the domestic AIDS epidemic that allow the epidemic and the stigma attached to it—poverty, discrimination, violence, homophobia, and stark racial and gender inequities—to persist and grow here at home. To that end, Obama should enact programs based on solid, evidence-based public health principles, including removing the ban on funding for syringe exchange and discontinuing funding for abstinence-only education.
The Center for American Progress has released the following policy recommendations:
- Early and ongoing care to people with HIV by passing the Early Treatment for HIV/AIDS Act and reauthorizing the Ryan White Care Act.
- Participation and leadership on the President’s Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS from the most vulnerable communities by including people of color, women, and gay men who are living with HIV/AIDS.
- More funding to the Minority AIDS Initiative to address the disproportionate effect that HIV/AIDS has had on communities of color.
- An end to the unnecessary discrimination that prohibits people with HIV from entering the United States as either visitors or immigrants.