AIDS advocates call on U.S. to set national AIDS strategy

Posted on 11 Sep 2007 at 4:06pm
By Bob Roehr Contributing Writer

Activists say federal government should meet same standards it demands of other countries receiving American dollars for AIDS

The U.S. federal government has long demanded that other countries it assists through the Presidents Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) have a results-based national AIDS strategy in place.

That plan is used a yardstick to allocate resources and measure accomplishments by countries that receive funds from the U.S.

The U.S., however, has never had such a national document to address the domestic HIV epidemic, though supporters have long called for its creation.

Now AIDS advocates are making a national AIDS strategy the centerpiece of their political activity for the 2008 election.

The call to action was launched on Aug. 21 with a Web site www.nationalaidsstrategy.org that outlines the case and allows organizations and individuals to sign on as supporters.

The closest thing the U.S. has had to a national AIDS strategy was a five-year prevention plan announced with great fanfare by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2000.

That plan outlined bold goals to to cut the rate of new infections in half within five years, particularly among the hard hit African-American community.

But the CDC was limited in what it could say on sexuality issues and was prohibited from supporting programs such as needle exchanges, which had demonstrated success in reducing the rate of new infections.

There was no new money allocated for the program, and observers gave it little chance of meeting its optimistic goals.

Those pessimistic predictions played out five years later when the plan expired and the estimated number of new infections was unchanged at 40,000 per year or, as some believe, had risen even higher.

More than 1.5 million Americans have been infected with HIV and a third of them have died since the epidemic began more than 25 years ago.

Chris Collins, a former aide to now-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, developed the call to action report, which describes current program activities as “fragmented and uncoordinated,” both within the federal government and between federal authorities and state and local agencies.

The report’s nine priorities call for setting clear goals and holding people and organizations accountable for meeting those goals.

“To ask other countries to have a plan and not do it ourselves is hypocrisy,” says Christine Campbell, director of national advocacy with the New York based group Housing Works.

David Munar with the Chicago AIDS Foundation says, “Just like the countries that get PEPFAR money, we need a plan so that we can hold everyone accountable for achieving its goals.

He adds, “Now is the time to let officials who are running for office know that we need the next administration and Congress to take this on and write this plan.”

For more information, go online to www.nationalaidsstrategy.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 14, 2007

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