AIDS has no party affiliation. It does not discriminate against liberals or conservatives. The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) does not care if Republicans or Democrats control Congress. It continues to infect an average of 56,000 Americans a year, whether it's an election year or not. And it certainly doesn't shut down in times of economic distress.
Following November's midterm elections, television pundits have prattled endlessly about a new political reality, while lobbying firms and advocacy organizations have been scrambling to position themselves for the new governing landscape. Conservative organizations are touting the election as a rebuke of progressive policies, while liberal groups argue that it was nothing more than a reflection of an electorate frustrated by a floundering economy.
World AIDS Day offers an opportunity to put this political posturing aside and examine the realities of this 30 year epidemic. This year's theme is "universal access and human rights." These principles are not exclusive to one political party or ideology. Nearly 600,000 Americans have lost their lives to this terrible disease and another 1.1 million Americans struggle with it daily. Every nine and a half minutes, someone is diagnosed with HIV and must face a new and uncertain future -- a lifetime fighting a disease that has no cure.
Americans living with AIDS don't divide themselves neatly among partly lines, residing strictly in Republican or Democratic districts. They look to their elected officials in both parties for action, no matter which controls the reigns of Congress or the White House at any given time. And today more than ever, our nation requires strong leadership from everyone in Washington if it is to address the challenges posed by this epidemic.
Much of the public has been lulled into a sense of complacency about the disease, even as infection rates remain alarmingly high, particularly in communities of color. More people are now waiting to receive life-saving medications from the AIDS Drug Assistance Program than at any time in its 20 year history. And a weak economy has left countless more Americans living with the disease questioning how they will continue to afford their treatment.
During previous administrations, Democrats and Republicans have worked together, finding common ground in their efforts to address HIV/AIDS, and I hope that our current representatives will continue this tradition. The president has provided a fantastic road map for action with the National HIV/AIDS Strategy and must continue to make it a top priority. But it's up to those in Congress to ensure that its recommendations receive the funding necessary for their successful implementation.
As both parties prepare for the 112th Congress, the AIDS community is looking to them to ensure that fighting HIV/AIDS remains a national priority. I sincerely hope that all of our leaders, Republican and Democratic alike, will rise to the challenge.