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Candidates Scored on AIDS Policies

Haider Rizvi

NEW YORK - Hundreds of activists gathered in Iowa this week urging voters to reject presidential candidates who do not support enhanced global efforts to fight HIV/AIDS.0103 06

In the final run up to the primaries, activists supported by Africa Action, an influential advocacy group, distributed thousands of posters showing which candidate stood where on the issue of HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention.

Iowans from both sides of the political divide will gather in caucuses tomorrow to pick their favorite candidates to lead the United States from January 2009. Voters in New Hampshire go to the polls just five days later.

Africa Action and other public health advocacy groups appear to be extremely disappointed with current U.S. policy regarding international efforts to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS and treat those already infected.

The United States, they say, needs to take a greater leadership role by contributing more resources in Africa and other poor regions of the world that have been hardest hit by the pandemic.

Activists demanded the presidential hopefuls take a clear stand against the Bush administration's funding policy requiring abstinence from sex until marriage and pledge more money for prevention and treatment abroad.

"We need the United States to commit at least $50 billion to fight AIDS globally in the next five years," said Africa Action's Briggs Bomba. "If the color of AIDS was white, we would fully fund the fight."

Recently, Bomba's group, which does not endorse any particular candidate, released an analysis detailing the varying positions of the leading presidential contenders on the issue of HIV/AIDS.

Based on recent statements of the candidates, the analysis reflects that almost all the leading Republican presidential hopefuls have shown little or no intention of making changes in the current policy.

On the other hand, all the leading Democratic hopefuls seem fully supportive of a more aggressive U.S. policy on HIV/AIDS, although certain differences do exist in their plans.

Hillary Clinton, for example, agrees that efforts to increase contributions to the UN-led Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria need to be enhanced, and her plan to fight global AIDS would deliver at least $50 billion by 2013 in aid for prevention and treatment abroad.

Clinton has emphasized the connection between education and healthcare and HIV/AIDS, and has expressed her concern over the lack of treatment in Africa, which accounts for about two thirds of the world's people living with HIV/AIDS, most of them women.


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"If HIV/AIDS was the leading cause of death of white women between the age of 25 and 34, there would be an outraged outcry in this country," she said in a recent statement. But whether she would take any initiative to eliminate the foreign debts of poor African countries -- which are widely blamed for limiting those countries' abilities to invest in health care and education -- is not clear.

Clinton's main rival Barack Obama, who seems extraordinarily well-informed about the global aspects of the HIV/AIDS issue, and particularly its impacts on Africa, says he would double U.S. foreign investments over the next five years, with much of that money going to "sustainable development and poverty reduction" efforts, including anti-HIV/AIDS programs.

"There must be more money spent on this disease," he has said. "But there must also be a change in hearts and minds; in cultures and attitudes. Neither philanthropist not scientist, neither government nor church, can solve this problem on their own -- AIDS must be an all-hands-on-deck effort."

Africa Action gave Obama a "B" rating for his stance on HIV/AIDS-related issues, a notch below Democratic rivals Clinton, Bill Richardson, and John Edwards, who all received "A" ratings from the group.

On the Republican side, John McCain, Rudolph Giuliani, and Mitt Romney received "F" ratings, while Mike Huckabee scored slightly higher, with an "E."

Democrats Edwards and Dennis Kucinich have proved much closer to activists calling for the reversal of many current U.S. policies on HIV/AIDS. Both candidates have strongly criticized the Bush administration for failing to follow through on promises of funding to combat the disease.

The Bush administration does not want the U.S. government to spend more than $30 billion in HIV/AIDS funding during the next five years, a sum that activists say would "quickly fall behind expanding treatment demand." President Bush has also continued to insist that its financial assistance remain tied to "abstinence from sex until marriage" policies.

Activists say that policy has failed to produce positive results and poses particular risks to women's lives.

In their view, abstinence from sex until marriage is an unrealistic goal in many of the most heavily impacted societies, where faithfulness is rarely assured and women have little power in sexual situations -- both inside and outside of marriages.

Researchers say the epidemic is now affecting more women than men by a large margin and that those living with HIV/AIDS suffer disproportionately from additional hardships, such as loss of income and property.

Last year, the United Nations reported that an estimated 39.5 million people in the world were living with HIV, which included 4.3 million newly infected.

© 2007 One

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