This week leadership in the fight to end AIDS (and seemingly to do most things that take political will) has shown up outside our nation's capitol. Governor Cuomo yesterday announced a credible, ambitious, and politically courageous plan to end the AIDS epidemic in New York. Meanwhile, in Washington Mr. Cuomo's fellow Democrats are flunking their leadership test--voting to cut $300 million from the fight against global AIDS even as their Republican House counterparts preserved the funds.
New York Governor Cuomo yesterday put forward a bold new goal--ending AIDS in New York by 2020. While this may sound like pie-in-the-sky, medical advances and new science have shown the virus can be beaten and Mr. Cuomo now has an evidence-based and fully resourced plan to make it happen. A recent study showed that people on effective HIV treatment are actually 96% less likely to transmit HIV to their partners. By achieving an 'undetectabl viral load' people living with HIV have a powerful new tool--halting and reversing the effects of HIV not only on their own health but on their lovers and communities. Combining this impact with other proven technologies from condoms to clean needles means Mr. Cuomo's team is right--they can "bend the curves" to bring new HIV infections way down. And importantly they know this will save the state millions of dollars in the long run even as there are some modest additional costs in the short-run. The essence of the Governor's plan is to identify people living with HIV through expanded testing and retesting and to promptly connect people who test positive to high quality antiretroviral therapy with the social and clinical supports to keep them in treatment.
It is now true, as Jason Walker of VOCAL-NY put it, that
we have the tools and know-how to end the AIDS epidemic in New York, the only question is whether we have the political will.
The same is true around the globe--and at the epicenter of the global epidemic in Africa. There East and Southern African activists, doctors, and health officials are calling for exactly this kind of go fast, beat the epidemic approach. Harvard researchers have shown how even South Africa, the country with the highest number of people living with HIV in the world at over 6 million, investing in early, widespread HIV treatment will save money in just a few years.
President Obama and former Secretary of State Clinton both backed this call to end the AIDS crisis, but national financial commitments have continued to lag--raising the: question where is the national Democratic leadership?
The signature President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR program) has been cut by over $600 million from where it was a few years ago. The result will be that by next year the program will likely have to pull back on enrolling new people on ART to its lowest levels since the program started in 2003!
This year there is still a key chance to fix fiscal starvation of the beginning of the end of AIDS. But the democrats are nowhere to be seen. The Republican controlled House voted to restore $300 million to the PEPFAR program--money that will not be used this year by the multilateral Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria because it had not raised enough money from donor countries.
But the Senate, led by Senators Mikuslki and Leahy, refused. Instead, they cut $300 million from the Global Fund and refused to restore any funding to the PEPFAR program. President Obama had done the same in his budget. Where are the champions on AIDS among the Democratic Senate leadership? Where is Senator Schumer? Senator Durbin?
With $300 million about a million more lives could be saved--people in desperate need of the very same drugs and care that Mr. Cuomo is promising New Yorkers. And those same drugs could help prevent millions of new HIV infections over time, helping turn the global tide against HIV.
One million lives. Millions of new infections.
Where are the national Democrats?