Published on
The Nation

Barack Obama's AIDS Advocacy

John Nichols

Barack Obama has always spoken well and wisely about the challenges posed by the HIV/AIDS crisis, and about the opportunity the United States has to address them.

Two years ago on World AIDS Day, before he was a candidate for the presidency, Obama delivered a remarkable speech at the "2006 Global Summit on AIDS and the Church" at California's Saddleback Church. As part of his remarks, the senator said:


We are all sick because of AIDS - and we are all tested by this crisis. It is a test not only of our willingness to respond, but of our ability to look past the artificial divisions and debates that have often shaped that response. When you go to places like Africa and you see this problem up close, you realize that it's not a question of either treatment or prevention - or even what kind of prevention - it is all of the above. It is not an issue of either science or values - it is both. Yes, there must be more money spent on this disease. But there must also be a change in hearts and minds; in cultures and attitudes. Neither philanthropist nor scientist; neither government nor church, can solve this problem on their own - AIDS must be an all-hands-on-deck effort.

A year later, on another World AIDS Day, Obama was running what was then seen as an uphill campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. He maintained his race-against-time urgency, describing the day as "a time to stay focused on the task ahead - stopping the spread of this disease once and for all."

Then Obama got specific:


That is what I will fight to do as President. As part of my comprehensive national HIV/AIDS strategy, we'll provide $50 billion by 2013 to fight the pandemic, and contribute our fair share to the Global Fund. I'll work to dispel the stigma surrounding this disease, which is what Michelle and I tried to do by taking a public HIV test in Kenya a while back. I'll expand the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief by $1 billion a year in new money over the next five years so we can reach more people in places like Southeast Asia, India, and Eastern Europe, where the pandemic is growing. We'll make sure medications developed with taxpayer dollars are available as generics in developing countries - because a person shouldn't be denied life-saving drugs just because we can't find a way to reform our patent laws. And we'll work to eliminate the extreme poverty that permits HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria to flourish by doubling our foreign assistance from $25 billion per year to $50 billion per year by 2012.

But leadership on HIV/AIDS has to start at home. We recently learned that our nation's capital has the highest AIDS infection rate of any city in this country. That is an outrage. It's time to launch a national effort to stop this disease, starting with African Americans, who are being affected disproportionately.

We cannot give the boy back the parents he lost or the woman back the future she had dreamed of. But what we can do is prevent any more suffering. What's stopping us is not a lack of knowledge or resources, but a lack of will. And until we -- as Americans and as human beings -- summon the will to end this moral crisis, the conscience of our nation cannot rest.


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On this World AIDS Day, Obama is no longer a senator speaking at a church.

Now is he a candidate making promises.

He is the President-elect.

He has the power to move beyond words to deeds.

When Barack Obama takes his oath as the 44th president of the United States on January 20, 2009, he will face many urgent demands.

But the new president, and the nation he leads, ought never forget that Barack Obama the senator and candidate was right: AIDS must be an all-hands-on-deck effort.


John Nichols is a co-founder of Free Press and the co-author with Robert W. McChesney of TRAGEDY & FARCE: How the American Media Sell Wars, Spin Elections, and Destroy Democracy -- The New Press.

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