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by vivrant thang on the aids crisis and national black hiv and aids awareness day

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Mother, mother
There’s too many of you crying
Brother, brother, brother
There’s far too many of you dying
You know we’ve got to find a way
To bring some lovin’ here today

While America is all abuzz with election coverage and now the tragic tornadoes that have claimed 52 lives, let us take a moment to remember that today is National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day.

I already shared some of the sobering statistics during my  week long series of posts for the Black Blogging to End AIDS carnival. They bear repeating.

  • AIDS remains the leading cause of death for Blacks ages 25 to 44, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • Blacks make up just 13% of the population of the USA, but they account for 50% of all new cases of HIV.
  • Black women account for 70% of all women with HIV.
  • 70% of the new cases among youth are Black

In light of the country’s infatuation with the elections and who will end up with the Democratic nod (since McCain has all but secured the nomination on the other side of the aisle), I thought I would take the time to compare Obama and Clinton’s platforms and records on this issue, as it is one that is personally very important to me as I’ve had several relatives die of the disease. Even if it hasn’t yet affected you personally, take a look at those statistics again. If this epidemic isn’t addressed, it soon will.

I didn’t have to go very far to find a comparison of the candidates as the Black AIDS Institute has published an informative report, “We Demand Accountability : The 2008 Presidential Elections and the Black AIDS Epidemic.” This report arose out of a written survey that was sent to each of the 16 candidates from both parties that were in the race in October 2007, as well as examination of their public records and their statements on this important issue.

How did we get here?

One of the reasons it’s so imperative that we hold these candidates accountable is because of the inaction of previous administrations.

  • By the time Reagan even mentioned “AIDS” in 1986, he was five years too late. More than 16,000 Americans had already died.
  • Under Big Bush’s watch, the AIDS-related fatalities had risen six fold. By the end of 1992, his last year in office, 190,687 Americans were dead. Nearly one-third of them were Black.
  • Although Clinton did more than his predecessors, against the advice of his secretary of Health and Human Services and other officials, he failed to lift the ban on federal funding for needle exchange programs.
  • Little Bush has cut spending on a wide range of domestic AIDS services (presumably to fund HIS war), which has resulted in Americans dying while waiting awaiting access to AIDS drugs.

Since AIDS is now a “Black disease,” what should Black voters ask of the Presidential candidates to see where they stand on an agenda to combat this epidemic?

Let’s see how the two remaining Democratic candidates stack up:

Do you have a national strategy?

While we may have foreign policies for the funding of AIDS programs in other countries, domestically, we are SORELY lacking. The 40,000 new infections a year and specifically the statistics above scream that fact.

Both candidates have committed to creating a national strategy for America’s response to the AIDS crisis.

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Obama released his national AIDS strategy in October, which specified that “in the first year of his presidency, he will develop and begin to implement a comprehensive HIV/AIDS strategy that includes all federal agencies.” This platform will include “measurable goals, timelines, and accountability mechanisms.”

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Clinton also released her AIDS platform in November which stated, “Federal efforts to tackle HIV/AIDS are diffuse and uncoordinated today…[Hillary] will tie all of the federal efforts together into a single comprehensive national strategy.”

Will you support policies that reduce Black infections?

According to the report, the most effective way the next president can impact the AIDS epidemic is by lifting the ban on federal funding for needle exchange programs. One-fifth of all HIV infections among Black men and women still come from sharing dirty needles. Among Black women infected through sexual contact, 17% of their HIV-positive male partners were infected by sharing dirty needles.

In addition, surveys have shows that Black people are more receptive to health information that is disseminated through their own Black community sources.

Where do the candidates stand on funding needle exchange programs? Will they devote substantial resources to helping the Black community get the word out about AIDS?

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Obama has vowed to fund syringe exchange programs and also stressed his support for the JUSTICE Act.

His platform declares that “HIV has hit some communities harder than others” and that he will “tackle the root causes of health disparities by addressing differences in access to health coverage and promoting prevention and public health.”

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Clinton also agrees to fund needle exchange programs, increase funding for the Minority AIDS Initiative, while also increasing support for nontraditional public health partners, in particular clergy and faith leaders.

Of course we all remember the famous soundbite, “Let me just put this in perspective : If HIV/AIDS were the leading cause of death of white women between the ages of 25 and 34 there would be outraged outcry in this country.”

Will You Support Community-Based HIV Testing?

1.2 million Americans believed to be HIV positive do not know they are infected, which consequently drives the growth of the epidemic. While Blacks get tested at rates more than twice that of Whites, the CDC estimates that half of all positive Blacks don’t know they are infected.

Let’s see where the candidates stand on promoting testing efforts in the Black community.

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It seems Obama has the strongest record on HIV testing, according to the report, because he has led by example. During a trip through Africa, he spoke about the need for personal and political leadership on AIDS. Then both he and Michelle took public tests.

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The report had no information on Clinton’s stance on this issue. I looked at her plan myself and I didn’t find anything either. I hear some of you all talking slick about Hillary probably being scared to take a public test with Bill. Cut it out.

Will you guarantee access to adequate treatement?

Two-thirds of Blacks who are in treatment for AIDS use public insurance, yet Medicaid systems are failing because of financial pressures. It goes beyond the availability of medications. AIDS service providers are no longer able to provide counseling services, nutrition programs, drug recovery programs, and other support mechanisms. As more and more people get tested and learn their status and need public insurance, the resources will become further strained.

Let’s see what our candidates plan to do to clean up this mess.

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Obama co-sponsored the Early Treatment for HIV Act, which would expand Medicaid to allow poor people living with HIV to qualify for public insurance.

He’s also a strong supporter of the Ryan White CARE Act, which is the primary vehicle that funds a variety of health and social programs across the country.

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Clinton pledges to strengthen Medicaid and was one of the two lead sponsors on the Early Treatment for HIV Act. She has been a key player in the ongoing debate for the reform of the Ryan White CARE Act, calling for more funding overall.

Both candidates platforms speak about this issue in the context of their broader healthcare plans, which I know readers have studied because we’re intelligent people here and focus on the issues when we chose which candidate to support. Right?

How will you stop the stigma?

As the Black community is well aware, this down-low phenomenon and the stigma of homosexuality/bisexuality has been a key factor in the spread of this disease, particularly among women. Since the president plays a large role in setting the national tone on a range of key issues, it is imperative that we have a leader who embraces all Americans regardless of sexual orientation or HIV status.

In addition, as some Black churches change their tune and lead the anti-stigma campaigns, faith-based funding is crucial to support their efforts.

Where do the candidates stand?

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Obama supports civil unions for LGBT Americans; banning employment discrimination bases on sexual orientation and gender identity; and has committed to lifting the lifelong ban on HIV-positive travelers entering the U.S.

He also says, “One of the things we’ve got to overcome is a stigma that still exists in our communities. We don’t talk about this. We don’t talk about it in schools. Sometimes we don’t talk about it in churches. It has been an aspect of sometimes a homophobia, that we don’t address this issue as clearly as it needs to be.”

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Clinton also support civil unions for LGBT Americans and supports banning employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Her platform stresses that she will work with faith leaders in the Black community on a number of issues, although fighting stigma wasn’t specified.

Lastly, she would also revive public health efforts to reduce infections among gay and bisexual men, particularly Blacks.

So there you have a comparison of the two remaining Democratic candidates platforms on stopping the spread of the disease.

Lest you think I’m biased (which I am), I did not intentionally forget about the Republican party. What do you know? NONE of the candidates bothered to respond to the survey, either in the written form or by telephone interview.

They don’t care about us! Hell, your Vice President didn’t even know there was an epidemic in the Black community…and didn’t care that he didn’t know.

The report does examine each candidate’s public record. At this point, you only need to look at McCain’s record.

  • He has not committed to creating a national strategy
  • He does not support lifting the ban on funding for needle exchange programs
  • He has never stated whether they would support HIV testing of any sort.
  • He has not supported the Early Treatment with HIV Act.
  • Although he was an original sponsor of the Ryan White CARE Act, but has not taken a meaningful role in AIDS treatment and care policymaking since.
  • He has consistently backed legislation that stigmatizes or discriminates against people living with HIV.

You can read the details…or lack of details…in the report.

Moving on.

Regardless of which candidate wins the Democratic nod, it’s imperative that we get these agenda items addressed.  Although I am a proud Obama Mama and am pleased with his track record and platform on this issue that is of utmost importance to me as a Black woman, I also find Hillary’s plan to be one that can make an impact. I would rather support a candidate that at least recognizes there is an issue worth addressing rather than ignores it because it’s not affecting people he cares anything about. That’s not what a president of these UNITED States should be doing.

I also recognize that these candidates say anything on the campaign trail that sounds good to get your vote. I’m sure both Obama and Hillary would love to be able to fulfill each and every one of these platform items. However, likely that’s impossible, particularly with a war to end and an economy to turn around. So it’s up to us to take personal accountability for our own health and well being. If we each pledged to do that, it would far surpass any prevention resources the government could offer.

Again, here are a series of posts I did for World AIDS Day that contain numerous resources around prevention and treatment and how you can personally get involved in the fight.

Here are some more resources for general HIV/AIDS education and voter education on where the candidates stand:

AIDSVote
National AIDS Strategy
08 Stop AIDS
AIDS: 25 Years and Counting
National Black HIV/AIDS Day
Black AIDS Institute

Remember, it starts with personal accountability.

Educate yourself. Protect yourself.

“Obama’s not the savior: we are. He opens a door. We push.”
Laura Flanders

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