Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Voting Like Lives Depended On It...Which In This Case, They Do

With Democrats, Republicans & Independents casting ballots in primary elections in South Carolina, Florida, California, New York, New Jersey, Georgia and other key states across the country over the next few weeks, there’s a life & death issue that must be raised.

“What will you do about AIDS in America?” is an essential question which must be asked of each presidential candidate, and answers of specific actions—backed with the resources to make those actions a reality—must be demanded. In the recent South Carolina debate held among the three leading Democratic presidential candidates—Hillary Clinton, John Edwards & Barak Obama—the fact that 400, mostly Black, HIV positive, South Carolinians were on an excruciatingly long waiting list to secure their anti-retroviral drugs was never mentioned. Such waiting lists—occupying the category of the “shame of the nation” that slavery once held—are the direct result of lack of HIV/AIDS funding from the federal government.

Non-profit, grant-making organizations like Cable Positive and Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, have made modest grants to AIDS Service Organizations in states across the country, but what we can do is not nearly enough. The growing number of poor people in dire need of HIV drugs to keep them alive requires a quick and large-scale government commitment, and that commitment can never be diminished. The notion that a citizen of this nation could die because they couldn’t afford the medicine which could keep them alive should have corporate and community leaders screaming at the top of their lungs. I doubt that if the people dying for lack of HIV medicine were white, well-connected and well-healed, that politicians would be so silent on the issue.

Recognizing that, the Black AIDS Institute has published an indispensible handbook for all voters this election year entitled, “We Demand Accountability: The 2008 Presidential Elections and the Black AIDS Epidemic.” In the publication, the presidential candidates from both parties are asked a series of pointed questions:

  • Do you have a National AIDS Strategy? Although a National AIDS Policy is required of all foreign nations if they are to receive U.S. funding for HIV/AIDS, the United States has no such policy. All 3 major Democratic candidates endorse a National AIDS Strategy, while only one Republican (Mike Huckabee) backs it.
  • Will you Support Policies that reduce HIV Infections in Black Communities, such as Needle Exchange Programs? The 3 major Democratic candidates support Needle Exchange programs; none of the Republicans do.
  • Will you guarantee access to Adequate Treatment? All of the Democratic Candidates have vowed to increase funding for the Ryan White CARE Act, the primary vehicle for federal funding of AIDS care services. None of the Republican candidates have pledged their support.

These are not some esoteric issues where ideology has any place at all. Matters concerning HIV/AIDS prevention, care and treatment are medical issues. Imagine the outcry in this country if cancer patients were denied access to care and treatment for that terrible disease, on the basis of politics, geography, wealth or race.

“We Demand Accountability,” is must reading before you cast your vote in the 2008 elections. It’s available by contacting the Black AIDS Institute at

Phill Wilson, CEO of the Black AIDS Institute, says it best:

Ending AIDS is about leadership—personal, professional and political leadership. We have aggressively called upon Black America to take responsibility for our own health and that of our communities. And, part of that responsibility is insisting that our elected officials also do their part to help us end this epidemic.”

No comments: