AIDS Groups, Advocates Disappointed Vice Presidential Candidates Avoided Discussing Domestic AIDS Issues in Debate
Several HIV/AIDS advocates and groups have expressed disappointment that Vice President Dick Cheney and Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. John Edwards (N.C.) avoided discussing domestic HIV/AIDS issues -- particularly Ryan White CARE Act funding, the "financial crisis" of AIDS Drug Assistance Programs and President Bush's push for abstinence-only HIV prevention programs -- during their campaign debate Tuesday night, the Advocate reports (Advocate, 10/7). PBS news correspondent Gwen Ifill, who moderated the debate, said to Cheney, "I want to talk to you about AIDS, and not about AIDS in China or Africa, but AIDS right here in this country, where black women between the ages of 25 and 44 are 13 times more likely to die of the disease than their [white] counterparts. What should the government's role be in helping to end the growth of this epidemic?" Both Cheney and Edwards shifted the conversation to foreign HIV/AIDS policy and general health care policy when asked what the U.S. government should do to curb HIV/AIDS prevalence among black women in the United States. While Cheney said that he was "not aware" that black women are 13 times as likely to die of AIDS-related causes as white women, Edwards said that HIV/AIDS prevention in the United States is part of the "bigger question" about the future of health care in the country (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 10/6).
"It was extremely disappointing," Lee Klosinski, director of programs at AIDS Project Los Angeles, said, adding, "It gives us pause to think such high-placed representatives on the two tickets were so ill-equipped to articulate a coherent response to the question about domestic AIDS, and in particular to address the criminal disparities that African Americans in general -- and African-American women in particular -- face regarding HIV infection and ... care and treatment." Klosinski said he had hoped that Edwards would have "challenge[d] the efficacy" of abstinence-only sex education programs for HIV/AIDS prevention, which the Bush administration "favor[s]." He added he also had hoped that both candidates would have discussed their views on reauthorizing the Ryan White CARE Act in 2005, federal funding for microbicide research and the increasing number of people placed on state ADAP waiting lists, according to the Advocate. "The bottom line is that these guys were totally unequipped to address the domestic AIDS agenda, and it gives us pause about the next four years," he said (Advocate, 10/7). Former Democratic presidential candidate Rev. Al Sharpton, speaking Wednesday on CNN's "Paula Zahn Now," said that "it was very, very telling, particularly when the vice president could not deal with the fact that we do not have enough money for research. We do not have enough money for alternative medical care. HIV and AIDS are at epidemic proportions in black communities around this country." However, Bush campaign adviser Rev. Joe Watkins, who also appeared on "Paula Zahn Now," said that Cheney "didn't waffle" in his response. "Clearly not. He wouldn't waffle. He talked about exactly what the administration has done and what the administration is doing," Watkins added (Zahn, "Paula Zahn Now," CNN, 10/6).
Several HIV/AIDS advocacy groups released statements in reaction to the vice presidential candidates' responses to the debate question about domestic HIV/AIDS. Summaries of some of the releases appear below:
AIDSVote.org: The responses from both Cheney and Edwards "lacked specific plans for addressing the disproportionate impact of HIV on women of color" in the United States and "indicat[e] the urgent and ongoing need for increased awareness and education of both campaigns on this vital domestic issue," according to an AIDSVote.org release. The statement "urges the audience participants and moderators of the two final presidential debates to demand specific and detailed answers from the candidates about their HIV/AIDS policies" (AIDSVote.org release, 10/6).
Communities Advocating for Emergency AIDS Relief Coalition: Cheney "honestly reflected the ignorance that exists at the federal level of government regarding the true impact of HIV/AIDS in America today," CAEAR Coalition Chair Patricia Bass said in a release. There are many "who feel his statement reflects the administration's and the Congress' failure to pay enough attention, to recognize and to act upon the dire need to provide basic health care and support services for people living with HIV/AIDS here at home. It is impossible to effectively respond to a crisis when you don't know it exists," Bass said (CAEAR Coalition release, 10/6).
Human Rights Campaign: Cheney's "ignorance" about domestic HIV/AIDS issues is "inexcusable," HRC President Cheryl Jacques said in a release. "The administration has an abysmal record on the domestic epidemic, cutting funds for key prevention programs at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and failing to adequately fund health care coverage for people with HIV," Jacques said, adding, "Despite this failure to fund, the administration has found resources to increase funding for abstinence-until-marriage programs by millions upon millions of dollars -- programs that are unproven, untested and insufficient." According to Jacques, both Edwards and Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry (Mass.) "are focused on solving our HIV/AIDS crisis" (HRC release, 10/6).
- National Association of People with AIDS: It is "shock[ing]" that Cheney did not know about the disproportionate effect of HIV on black women and "disappoint[ing]" that Edwards "lost an important opportunity to discuss how HIV affects African-American women," a NAPWA release says. Organizations and health departments across the country are "stalled for lack of funds" to implement HIV/AIDS prevention and education programs, and CDC's budget for HIV programs has "remained essentially flat for the last three years," according to the release. Moreover, Edwards "missed" an opportunity to discuss the need to increase funding for domestic HIV/AIDS treatment, care, prevention and housing, according to the release (NAPWA release, 10/6).
How Cheney "managed to miss one of the most significant turns in the national HIV epidemic in the last several years is a mystery," columnist Silja Talvi writes in an AlterNet opinion piece. The HIV/AIDS epidemic in the United States "hasn't gone away" but has "been busy making its home in the heart of the African-American community," according to Talvi, who adds that Cheney's response shows that the Bush administration has "not only ignored public health issues facing black communities (and communities of color more broadly) but has also forced the abstinence-or-else mantra down the throats of funding recipients." Edwards also "skirted" the question, "pointing instead at the need for more money for the global fight against AIDS," Talvi writes, concluding, "The ball dropped and bounced and rolled away as if it were invisible. And that's a damn shame" (Talvi, AlterNet, 10/7).
Video of Cheney's and Edwards' comments on HIV/AIDS is available online in RealPlayer.