The last two weeks have been pretty terrible for those of us who care deeply about the struggle to end the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Somewhere around 55,000 people died in the last week from AIDS and many more than that were infected with HIV -- tragedies we know how to stop.
But what made the last two weeks especially disturbing was the failure of our political leaders. President Bush went to Germany and, with the G8 leaders, announced a complete backtracking on major international promises. Meanwhile, the Democrats somehow decided it was a good idea to increase funding for abstinence-education programs for young people that we know deny them access to the information they need to stay alive. Yes, a very bad week.
As I wrote last week, Mr. Bush asked Congress to reauthorize the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) -- but asked for funding so low that there will be no growth in the program and few new people will access treatment.
In Germany, the G8 met and announced a $60 billion commitment over the next "few years." 'How many years?' you may wonder. Well, we quickly saw the claims that "half" of this would come from the US -- meaning the $30b over 5 year amount for Bush's PEPFAR II. The big problem? That's about 1/3 of what"s needed from the 8 countries that control somewhere around 2/3 of the wealth of the world.
Most shocking, though, was that the G8 countries announced that rather than seeking to reach "Universal Access to AIDS Treatment" by 2010, as they promised two years ago, they'd settle for about half. By that year there will likely be upwards of 10 million people in immediate need of AIDS treatment -- but the G8 is hoping to get just 5 million on treatment.
What's the other half supposed to do exactly?
We know, too, that Mr. Bush and his staff were behind cutting the treatment numbers down in order to make the PEPFAR program look good -- half of those 5 million people will be funded by the US. Other countries can and should be doing much more -- but since when is doing half as much as you originally promised "leadership" from the wealthiest country in the world?
Meanwhile, maybe hoping we were all too occupied watching the White House, at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue the Democrats were busy selling out young people and their access to real sex-education. As James Wagoner wrote last week, we're about to see the first increase -- by $27 million -- in abstinence only until marriage programs.
These programs have been shown not to work by reports commissioned by Congress -- and at times to actually increase young people's risk-taking. Nonetheless, it looks like more and more young people will not be learning about sex and how they can keep themselves alive here in the US next year.
All this is very bad news -- and it's time that we all got much louder. We need young people to have access to information about sex, and we need people living with HIV to have access to lifesaving drugs.
Those who claim to be the champions on these issues have to start actually delivering. I guess this is one good reason to have a year-long primary season.