AHF: ‘Sad day in battle against AIDS’ as OBAMA elects to skip AIDS Conference

In Advocacy, News by AHF

“In the 1980s, ‘Silence Equaled Death.’ Today, President Obama’s Ongoing Silence on AIDS Equals Death for Millions.”  Michael Weinstein, President, AIDS Healthcare Foundation  

As 20,000 leading AIDS scientists, researchers, medical providers, patients and advocates gather in Washington, many demand the White House ends patient waiting lists for the AIDS Drug Assistance Programs (ADAP) and restore funding for the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR)

WASHINGTON (July 16, 2012) With White House confirmation today that President Barack Obama will NOT attend or address the International AIDS Society’s XIX International AIDS Conference, which kicks off this Sunday, July 22, 2012 in Washington, DC, advocates from AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) expressed surprise and dismay over the President’s decision, noting that it sends a discouraging message about the president’s view of the importance of HIV/AIDS and his commitment to addressing the pandemic in a meaningful and effective manner.

“The news that President Obama has elected to skip the International AIDS Conference—which takes place at the Convention Center near his home in Washington—speak volumes,” said Michael Weinstein, President of AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which provides freeHIV/AIDS medical care to over 176,000 people in the U.S. and 25 other countries abroad. “Barely one mile away, yet he won’t deign to attend and address conference attendees. Meanwhile, former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, former First Lady Laura Bush and Bill Gates have all committed to speaking at the event. It appears the President does not want to engage the AIDS communities—and with good reason. It is truly a sad day in history, a sadder day in the battle against AIDS and a sad reflection on the Obama presidency.”

The conference, which takes place every two years, is a gathering of over 20,000 leading AIDS scientists, researchers, medical providers, patients and advocates from around the world. The conference, which is being held in the United States for the first time in more than 20 years, will feature presentations of important new scientific research and opportunities for dialogue on the major challenges facing the global response to AIDS.

By historic precedent, heads of state and leaders of host countries formally address conference attendees during the opening night ceremony of the conference, which takes place this year at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, DC. Only once has a head of state failed to appear: In 2006, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s decision to stay away from that year’s XVIII AIDS conference that was held in Toronto drew widespread notice—and criticism.

“If the decision not to address the 20,000 leading AIDS scientists, researchers, medical providers, patients and advocates from around the world attending the AIDS conference in Washington next week was President Obama’s own, then shame on him. If it was a decision based on advice from his staff, then he is being ill served by his advisors,” said Tom Myers, Chief of Public Affairs and General Counsel for AHF. “In essence, the questions people will ask during the entire week of the conference will be: Why won’t President Obama speak on AIDS? Is he afraid of getting heckled again by AIDS advocates, as he did in New Haven back in October 2010? Embarrassed by the actions—or inaction—on AIDS that seems to be a hallmark of his administration? Or did he merely get a better offer, a whistle stop campaign appearance that trumps AIDS?”

There are currently waiting lists of nearly 2,000 patients waiting for access to the AIDS Drug Assistance Programs (ADAP), the network of programs that provide AIDS drugs to low-income Americans living with HIV/AIDS. In addition, the administration is seeking to cut its funding in the global AIDS fight—the first time an American president has ever taken such a step.

“In the 1980s, ‘Silence Equaled Death.’ Today, President Obama’s ongoing silence on AIDS equals death for millions,” added AHF’s Weinstein.

Earlier this year, the Obama administration, which—in a shocking repudiation of nearly thirty years of progress against the global AIDS pandemic—unveiled a global AIDS budget that took the unprecedented step of reducing AIDS funding by approximately $214 million in fiscal year 2013. Never before has a president sought to actually reduce America’s commitment to fighting the AIDS epidemic globally.

In Fiscal Year 2012, the federal funding for global AIDS is $6.63 billion.  President Obama’s fiscal year 2013 budget proposes spending $6.42 billion.  In human terms, this difference represents 640,000 people with HIV/AIDS that could receive lifesaving AIDS treatment for one year.

The proposed budget came shortly after, and is directly at odds with, the President’s December 2011 announced goals of putting 2 million more people (50% more than the current number of approximately 4 million) on treatment by the end of 2013, and of creating an “AIDS free generation.”

“Actions speak louder than words,” added AHF’s Weinstein. “Defunding PEPFAR and ignoring ADAP waiting lists merely confirm what people with HIV/AIDS and their advocates have long suspected—that the President is not seriously committed to fighting AIDS.  Without increasing PEPFAR funding to the levels already authorized by Congress, just holding steady against the epidemic—let alone achieving an ‘AIDS-free generation,’—as the president made great fanfare about on World AIDS Day, is simply empty rhetoric and was likely to fall on deaf ears at the AIDS conference.”

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AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), the largest global AIDS organization, currently provides medical care and/or services to more than 176,000 individuals in 26 countries worldwide in the US, Africa, Latin America/Caribbean, the Asia/Pacific Region and Eastern Europe. To learn more about AHF, please visit our website: www.aidshealth.org, find us on Facebook: www.facebook.com/aidshealth and follow us on Twitter: @aidshealthcare.

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