Last month President Obama was in New York City for a Democratic fundraiser, but it wasn't his political views that made headlines. Thanks to some agitated activists it was a nonpartisan issue that rose to the forefront - lack of funding for a virus that's become epidemic in a first world country: AIDS.
It's been estimated that AIDS rates among black Americans rival some African nations. And according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), AIDS is the leading cause of death for American women ages 25-34 - an embarrassing statistic for a country with access to some of the best medication in the world.
But access comes at a price, and the government has never been willing to foot the bill.
Housing Works, the largest community-based AIDS service organization in the United States, reports that more than 2,000 people with HIV/AIDS are awaiting critical, potentially lifesaving medication. More than 18,000 Americans with AIDS will die this year, many of them because they have been wait-listed for treatment.
President Obama's allocation of $25 million toward AIDS Drug Assistance Programs (ADAP) is an anemic attempt to quell a consistently underfunded and ignored issue. It only prolongs the laissez-faire mentality that has prevailed when it comes to AIDS treatment in America.
AIDS no longer has to be a death sentence, yet thousands of people with HIV/AIDS are forced to fight for a chance at life because the cost of medication is prohibitive. Current estimates reveal that one million people are living with HIV in the United States. For a president who has earned a reputation as a spendthrift, it's hard to believe that he can't spare some change to give citizens the prescriptions they need to lead healthy lives.
Nearly three decades have gone by and the four-letter acronym is still treated as an "other" problem. But we know it has many faces. It's not just the injection drug abuser or promiscuous gay man's problem. And creating obstacles to proper treatment effectively makes it a human rights problem. The physical and emotional damage caused by an HIV/AIDS diagnosis can be devastating enough without having to worry about the cost of staying alive.
The Access ADAP Act Senate bill currently on the table calls for $126 million of unspent federal stimulus funds to be transferred to ADAP but the Obama administration has declined to support it. And until then, many pill bottles will remain empty.