Advocates Rally at White House, Urge Obama To Prioritize HIV/AIDS
More than 1,000 HIV-positive people and HIV/AIDS advocates gathered near the White House on Thursday to urge President-elect Barack Obama to improve both domestic and global HIV/AIDS initiatives, VOA News reports (Lesser VOA News, 11/20). The groups that organized the rally are asking Obama to take action on a national AIDS strategy in the U.S., as well as build upon current efforts abroad through the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief during his first 100 days in office (100 Days To Fight AIDS release, 11/20).
Michael Swigert, associate director of Africa Action, said that Obama's first 100 days in office will be "a critical period" for setting HIV/AIDS priorities, including appointing the next U.S. global AIDS coordinator and other global health positions. Swigert said that it is "important that Obama fill those positions with qualified individuals who support comprehensive prevention programs." According to Swigert, President Bush's HIV/AIDS work is "probably his most popular foreign policy" and has generated "good will for us abroad." Under the next administration, the U.S. should "continue to be a leader" in these efforts, he said.
According to Swigert, HIV/AIDS funding should be a priority for the next president as well as the next Congress. He acknowledged that current economic conditions will pose challenges for the next administration to fund expanded HIV/AIDS initiatives but said that the U.S. "need[s] to provide $59 billion over five years" through PEPFAR "to fight not just HIV but also malaria and tuberculosis." Swigert added that the U.S. will need to set "hard treatment targets" and increase the availability of generic drugs to meet the goal of achieving universal treatment access by 2010. Although PEPFAR has done "an increasingly better job" of not relying on brand-name medications, the program "still could do better in stretching taxpayer dollars further to save lives in Africa," Swigert said. According to Swigert, there is a "big push" in the U.S. development community to "consolidate development assistance" and "harmonize" the funding of development programs in Africa. Therefore, it is "really important" for Obama to build on his "incredible popularity" by enlisting U.S. allies in Europe to address issues like HIV/AIDS "that really affect Europeans, Americans as much as Africans," Swigert said.
According to VOA News, Obama during the U.S. presidential campaign committed to guarantee treatment and care for HIV-positive people in the U.S., provide housing for people living with HIV, end the federal ban on needle-exchange programs and redirect abstinence-only education into broader HIV prevention programs. In addition, Vice President-elect Joe Biden in July helped pass a bill to reauthorize PEPFAR in Congress, VOA News reports (Lesser, VOA News, 11/20).
An audio discussion with Swigert is available online.