More than a thousand people living with HIV and their
allies are expected to gather near the White House today in a preemptive public
demonstration for AIDS advocacy. They are
staging a pretend inauguration ceremony to urge President-Elect Barack Obama to
improve the way the United States fights AIDS domestically and globally.
The rally comes one day after former Senate
Majority Leader Tom Daschle accepted Mr. Obama’s offer to become Secretary of
Health and Human Services (HHS) and implement a campaign pledge to deliver
comprehensive universal health care to Americans. Associate director Michael Swigert of the group Africa Action is coordinating
today’s simulated inaugural ceremony near the White House, which takes place
two months before the actual swearing-in on January 20. He says that President
Obama’s first 100 days in office will be crucial in setting priorities for
going to be a critical period of appointments in terms of who is going to be
the next global AIDS coordinator and other key positions in the US global
health bureaucracy. So it’s important
that Obama fill those positions with qualified individuals who support
comprehensive prevention programs,” he said.
Other priorities agreed to by candidate Obama as far back as eight months ago during
the US presidential campaign include guaranteed treatment and care for all
people with HIV in the United States, a commitment to housing for AIDS victims,
an end to the federal ban on funding for syringe exchanges, and a call to
redirect abstinence sex education funding into broader HIV prevention
July, Obama running mate Joseph Biden, as chairman of the Senate Foreign
Relations Committee, helped steer through Congress a significant increase in
funding for the Bush administration’s successful overseas PEPFAR program
(President’s Emergency Program for Aids Relief) to about $50 billion over the
next five years, with funds included in the package to help combat the spread
of the related diseases of malaria and tuberculosis. Africa Action’s Michael Swigert says priorities for increased
funding beyond those levels continue to be a challenge, not only for the next
president, but also for the new Congress.
like to see the levels of funding continue to go up. With PEPFAR, we need to provide $59 billion over five years
needed to fight not just HIV but also malaria and tuberculosis, which are often
co-infectious diseases with HIV. We
need to see hard treatment targets for a fair share where the US is committed
to provide universal treatment by 2010.
We need to see increased use of generic medications. PEPFAR, I think, did an increasingly better
job of not relying on overly expensive brand name pharmaceuticals, but still
could do better in stretching taxpayer dollars further to save lives in
Africa,” he explained.
Africa Action Associate Director says that the good will generated during Mr.
Obama’s tour of European and Middle Eastern countries last summer provides an
excellent opportunity for health officials to encourage foreign countries to
step up their funding of an AIDS strategy for Africa alongside American
contributions. He points out that
policymakers should acknowledge the success of the past five years in Africa by
continuing to enlarge the scope of their prevention and treatment programs.
Bush’s global AIDS plan has been probably his most popular foreign policy, so I
think the US should recognize that this is a source of good will for us abroad
and it’s something which we need to continue to be a leader in,” he notes.
the world economy in deep trouble, Swigert acknowledges that President Obama is
going to have to work hard to live up to his pledge to find new financial
resources for an expanded AIDS strategy.
But he says the high infection rates facing countries like Zimbabwe and
South Africa and several conflict-ridden states of Central and East Africa
leave little choice but to make more medical care available to contain the
pandemic. He says US efforts to raise
participation by America’s European allies in funding AIDS programs will
provide some additional help for African countries that face possible
annihilation of their populations from the spread of HIV/AIDS.
“There’s three big donors for the
African continent right now when it comes to AIDS. That’s the Global Fund, PEPFAR, and then the World Bank. And there’s a big push in the development
community here in the US to consolidate development assistance across a range
of issues and to harmonize the way the US government and the US bureaucracy
funds development programs in Africa.
So I think it’s really important for President Obama to build on the
incredible popularity he has in Europe by asking American allies there to do
more to address these human security issues there like HIV/AIDS that really
affect Europeans, Americans as much as Africans,” he said.