Frustration, hope and a dedication to change through the coming election were common threads marking AIDSWatch 2008 at a rally at the foot of the Capitol April 29. The theme was 'AIDS at Home.'
'We have more information about this disease than any other … yet we do not take this information and use it to do something about the problem in the proper way,' said Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif ( Pictured. Photo by Bob Roehr ) 'In the final analysis, the money appropriated does not match the talk.'
'We have an opportunity to ask our candidates about the issues. We know that they have waxed eloquently about healthcare in general. I have heard no specific discussion about HIV/AIDS,' she said. Read more story below....
'I have heard no specific commitment to increasing the funding for AIDS from any of the candidates. Now, their hearts may be in the right places, but I want to hear them talk about it. I want to hear them make it a priority.'
Waters is a superdelegate to the Democratic National Convention and has endorsed Sen. Hillary Clinton.
She spoke movingly of her own dedication to the fight against AIDS, from the early days meeting people kicked out of their homes by their families, through her own sister's struggle and ultimate death from the disease, to the ongoing fights for funding.
'Anybody can rattle off the facts. … But when are we going to get to the national strategy? The well-defined plan that talks about the responsibility of all aspects of our society, that will identify the resources that are needed, the work that is to be done, by whom it is going to be done, the goals we are going to set—it is time for us to get a national strategy.'
The U.S. requires that the countries it helps through PEPFAR ( President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief ) develop a national HIV/AIDS plan, but the U.S. lacks one of its own. Programs are fragmented and gaps are numerous.
Waters lambasted the Bush administration for its current budget proposal that increases Ryan White funding 'only by a measly $1.1 million this year, while it would require an increase of $614 million just to meet the bare needs of this country.' The proposed budget would cut CDC HIV prevention funding by $2 million, while an increase of $832 million is needed.
'Ladies and gentlemen, It is not enough to say that I am sick and tired of George W. Bush; I am. But we have to be clear when we talk to our friends about what we expect from them.'
'I wish I could tell you that I am confident that we are going to get the increases, that we are going to get a President and a White House that will work with us to develop a national strategy—but I'm not. That is why we have got to ask the questions,' said Waters.
Democratic control of Congress has not brought increased funding for HIV programs.
Assistant Majority Leader Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said learning that basketball star 'Magic' Johnson had AIDS brought home the fact that 'it was a problem that could reach into the lives of anyone.' A congressional hearing soon thereafter left him so shaken that he went home to Chicago and called his three teenage kids into the room to talk with them about AIDS.
Durbin said the entire annual budget of the Ryan White CARE Act is just over $2 billion; 'That is one week in the war in Iraq. And when we talk about expanding it, the [ Bush ] administration says we can't afford it.'
'It is heartbreaking to me that we are spending $10-15 billion a month on a war in Iraq and say that we can't afford the basic health care that people need through the Ryan White CARE Act.'
'A strong American begins at home with a caring leader who reaches out to help the people of this country,' the Senator said.
Rep. Donna M. Christian-Christensen, D-Virgin Islands, said, 'With the overwhelming numbers in sub-Saharan Africa and the growing global epidemic, too often the needs at home have not been placed at the same level of importance. When one looks at the picture of HIV/AIDS here, at least in the African-American community, it begins to parallel what is seen in the Caribbean.'
'With the overwhelming numbers in sub-Saharan Africa and the growing global epidemic, too often the needs at home have not been placed at the same level of importance. When one looks at the picture of HIV/AIDS here, at least in the African-American community, it begins to parallel what is seen in the Caribbean.'
She called for programs that are 'free of all of the political and ideological limitations that have been placed on AIDS funding in this country and around the world these past few years.'