H. Alexander Robinson

Have We Given Up on Ending AIDS?

Filed By H. Alexander Robinson | August 20, 2007 6:40 AM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: African-American, black, black women, HIV/AIDS, HRC, IAVI, LOGO, Presidential

For all the history making and unprecedented coverage of the recent Human Rights Campaign Foundation/Logo Presidential Forum the event provided no new information about the Democratic candidates.

I was disappointed by the relatively superficial focus on HIV/AIDS and it should alarm advocates for a vigorous campaign to end the pandemic. While all the candidates support funding the Ryan White CARE Act, the federal bill which provides funds for AIDS care, treatment and some support services, there wasn’t much in the way of ideas about how to invigorate our nation’s response to AIDS or any expressions of a commitment to end AIDS or find a vaccine.

A naive viewer would have been left with the impression that marriage equality was the defining issue for LGBT America. While marriage is clearly a major civil rights priority for our community and I dare say the nation, it is hardly the only issue and should not in my view define our movement.

Now to be fair, in addition to their support for increased funding for AIDS and health care, the candidates volunteered their support for the federal safe schools legislation, the expansion of federal hate crimes protections to include sexual orientation and gender identity, ending the military’s don’t ask don’t tell policy, eliminating the most offensive provision of the Defense of Marriage Act, addressing the discrimination faced by bi-national same sex couples and expanding civil unions to include federal benefits.

Since that just about covers the LGBT federal policy agenda we are only left with the divergence on marriage. Consequently, it is understandable that the candidate’s intransigence on marriage took center stage.

On the issue of marriage let’s be clear, when the history is written only Reps. Kucinich and Gravel will be seen as visionary leaders on the rights side of the marriage debate. The other candidates, notably the current leaders in the polls Senators Clinton, Edwards and Obama will be viewed much as the pre-Brown v. Board of Education White liberals and the Black apologists who believed that separate and unequal public school education for Black Americans was what was achievable and thereby politically prudent to support.

But back to my earlier point—have we given up on the idea of ending AIDS?

Despite the community’s best efforts, the HIV pandemic continues unabated both here at home in the United States and internationally. In 2006, more than 39 million people were living with HIV worldwide. Over four million people became newly infected with HIV and an estimated 2.8 million lost their lives to AIDS.

On average, people require life-saving antiretroviral treatment 7-10 years after becoming infected. According to the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative ((IAVI) at least 80% of those in clinical need of antiretroviral treatment worldwide are not receiving them. Black women are leading the way in new infections in the U.S.and estimates are that nearly half of the Black gay and bisexual men who are infected with HIV may be unaware of their status. It is time civil rights, racial justice, women and LGBT advocates to come together to give our nation’s anemic response to the epidemic a needed shot in the arm.

New technologies to prevent HIV transmission are an imperative.

IAVI estimates that the potential positive impact of AIDS vaccines would be enormous, especially in the developing world. Even in a relatively conservative scenario, an effective preventive HIV vaccine could prevent almost 30 million of the 150 million new infections projected in the coming decades and a highly effective vaccine could even prevent over 70 million infections in fifteen years.

Yet there’s not bold new vaccine or even HIV prevention and education proposal being put forward by any of the candidates. Moreover we don’t seem to be demanding action either. As a friend and colleague of mine is noted for saying, “dead people don’t get married.”

Lest it appeared that I was singling out the LGBT presidential forum for criticism or decrying the gay movement’s efforts to win marriage let me assure you this is not my intention. When the Democratic candidates held forums at Howard University and came before the NAACP and the National Urban League convention’ to mostly Black audiences we still were treated to platitudes, well-scripted sound bites and promises of future funding for care.

Yes, we need to care for people living with HIV and AIDS. We also need the funds for care to be distributed on a fair and equitable basis. We need to use all means necessary to prevent new infections.

And we need to end the AIDS epidemic and find a vaccine.

What a legacy it would be if the next President of the United States was credited with providing the strategic national leadership necessary to achieving the international challenge of ending the deadly AIDS pandemic.

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In America and the Western countries, the insurance and drug companies are on the make, selling anti-HIV regimens at ceiling prices and getting the big-time revenue they covet. The American economy, to a large extent, has accommodated and absorbed this leech. So who wants to ruin everything by coming up with a vaccine?

What large population is going to take it, when we can't even get Guardasil delivered to help young women avoid cervical cancer because of the "ethical message" that such a vaccination gives? If a Guardasil vaccination implies the message, "It's OK to have sex with your boyfriend" to young women, then won't a widely-administered anti-HIV vaccine imply the message "It's OK for you to bareback with your boyfriend" to the young men of America?

Then there is the third world, specifically Africa. It is the main serious hope for a vaccine. Said vaccine is not likely to come from any government-sponsored effort. If I see the vaccine within my lifetime, I will place my bet that it will come out of efforts funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Surprise, surprise! As much as we have badmouthed Buccaneer Bill, the whole world doing Windows might actually result in something good.

I just wanted to make sure you saw this Washington Blade article that references your post here.