Personal Health

Obama's Plan to End the HIV/AIDS Crisis

Obama promises to leave behind ideology-driven debates over how to spend money, and instead put common sense and science first.

Like so many millions of Americans, on November 4 I sat with friends and watched in awe as America elected Barack Obama to be our 44th president. And for the past two weeks, I've been trying to understand what all this means, especially for people with HIV in the US and worldwide. In this time of transition, I've realized it's helpful to look back on where we've been in order to get an idea of just how historic this election is.

So, let's go back in time, to May of 2007. President Bush has just given a speech outlining his vision for the next five years of U.S. global AIDS efforts. In short, he said "we should keep doing what we're doing, not learn any lessons, keep pushing abstinence, and flat fund the program." This was on top of six and half years of wholesale neglect of the domestic AIDS crisis. In response, activists got together and developed a platform that laid out exactly what the next president would need to do to undo the harm of the Bush administration's AIDS plan, while continuing the parts that are doing good and saving lives.

We set out on a mission -- to convince each of the candidates for office that they needed to support our plan, which included such novel ideas as promoting comprehensive sex education, advancing generic drug access and spending $50 billion over five years on AIDS around the world. While we made some progress, the fight against AIDS was overshadowed by other issues shaping the campaigns, such as the war, healthcare and the economy.

Then, a little over a year ago, several hundred people marched through the streets of Philadelphia to the doors of the Democratic debate, and demanded AIDS plans from each of the Democratic candidates for president. Shortly after, all eight candidates had released comprehensive plans to fight AIDS, including our current President-elect and Vice-President-elect. Their plans were modeled in large part on a platform many of us had been advocating for months.

Taking a look at Obama's AIDS plan (PDF) is like reading my policy wish list. He promises to leave behind ideology-driven debates over how to spend money, and instead put common sense and science first. He wants to end our funding of programs that only discuss abstinence and fidelity without a mention of condoms. He would no longer negotiate harmful trade deals that prioritize drug company profits over people's lives. And he wants to invest fully in the fight against global AIDS, both through bilateral programs and the multilateral Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria.

Domestically, his plan is spot-on. He's calling for the development of a National AIDS Strategy, including expanding Medicaid to cover people with HIV, not just AIDS, and ending the federal ban on funding for syringe exchange. He recognizes that we must do more to confront the epidemic of HIV communities of color, especially amongst gay men and other men who have sex with men, and calls for action on this issue.

Unlike Bush's plan detailed in May of 2007, we won a plan from Obama that uses many of the real tools we have to fight the epidemic. In two months and two days, President Obama will become the 44th president of the United States. We have much to be hopeful for, but we also know that he is going to face incredible challenges to enact his visionary plan. In the midst of a financial crisis, programs aimed at the poorest people are easy to push aside for a few months or a few years. We need to let President-elect Obama know we support him, and we support him implementing his AIDS plan.

In two days, one thousand activists will do just this. People living with HIV, and allies, from across the country are coming to DC to rally behind Obama's AIDS plan, and call for him to take steps to implement it in his first 100 days in office. We'll be holding an "inauguration ceremony and parade," and will march to the White House and transition team offices.

The AIDS crisis, both domestically and globally, is not something that can be ignored any longer. No president has ever taken fighting AIDS, especially at home, seriously. We're on the verge of inaugurating the first person that not only can help us end the AIDS epidemic, but has the plan to do it, too. We're hopeful that he will really do what he says he's going to do. But we're also taking action, and rallying behind his plan, because we know that grassroots action is the only way we'll really end the AIDS epidemic.