Hundreds of people attended a rally on the U.S. Capitol grounds Wednesday, calling on the government to spend hundreds of millions of dollars more to combat AIDS.
AIDS activists want Congress to amend President Bush's supplemental budget request by adding $750 million for the new Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. The fund is dispensing about $800 million this year to governments and various groups to fight the epidemic. However, requests for money actually totaled more than one-billion dollars.
The keynote speaker at the rally was actor Danny Glover, who says he lost his brother and many friends to AIDS. "The world is facing the worst health crisis in history," says Mr. Glover. "Already, 20 million members of our human family are dead because of AIDS. That's more than the combined populations of New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Houston and Phoenix."
Mr. Glover says sub-Saharan Africa has been hit hardest by HIV/AIDS. It is home to three-quarters of the estimated 40-million people living with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. "There are cities in Uganda where the only booming businesses are the undertakers and the coffin makers," he says. "In Zimbabwe, families are made to bury their dead deep enough to accommodate a second body on top of the first because the country has simply run out of space for graves."
Three members of the House of Representatives also addressed the rally. Congressman John Conyers told the crowd that they must threaten to use the ballot box as a weapon if their representative does not respond. "People come up here by the thousands everyday," says Mr. Conyers. "They want this. They want that. It's good. It's nice. It's wonderful. It's for humanity and oh! There's only one thing that gets it in Washington, D.C. on the Capitol and that there are consequences attached to everything we vote on. And if there aren't any consequences, you're not going to get what you want."
Fellow Democrat, Barbara Lee says she's seen the impact of AIDS in Africa first hand. "I recently returned from Mozambique and from South Africa. And you know I looked around in Mozambique and I realized I was one of the oldest persons walking around," says Mrs. Lee. "And then it hit me that the life expectancy in Mozambique as a result of AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis has been reduced down to 36 or 37 years of age. I've visited orphanages and hospices where babies were dying of AIDS, where mothers and fathers were dying of AIDS all in the same facility."
Republican Congressman James Leach also supports a supplemental budget containing $750 million to fight AIDS. "There's no reason whatsoever that we cannot in an emergency supplemental to provide the resources that are needed in an early time basis and as a congress to maintain a sustaining commitment," he said. "And if we don't, this body is one of the most shortsighted legislative institutions in the world. There is no greater emergency than AIDS."
Adding money for AIDS to the supplemental budget is believed to be an uphill battle in Congress. There is expected to be strong opposition.
As for the White House position, it says it has donated nearly $500 million to the Global Fund since the Bush Administration took office. That's about one-quarter of the total contributions. And it says in fiscal 2003, it's proposing to spend more than $1 billion to fight AIDS worldwide, including a $200 million contribution to the fund.
Aids activists say U.S. spending on AIDS in fiscal 2003 should be $2.5 billion, with about half that amount going to the Global Fund.
The White House says it is committed to combating AIDS, but does not wish to do so through a supplemental budget.