STATEMENT: Mourning the Loss of Coretta Scott King
Pioneer's Work Lives on in Individual Committments to a Just Future
The Black AIDS Institute family joins our community and the world today in mourning the loss of civil rights pioneer Coretta Scott King.
In her life, Mrs. King contributed to her community through countless roles, from fearless trailblazer in the global human rights struggle to widow, mother and bedrock for a family that has sacrificed so much in the name of justice. In the years since Dr. King’s passing, she has continued to carry forth and build upon his mission of creating a truly just society.
Mrs. King boldly framed our fight against the forces that fuel the AIDS epidemic as part of that mission. That is why she was among the first Heroes in the Struggle the Institute honored. She contributed her voice to our campaigns time and again – and to countless other efforts to help Black America save itself from this scourge.
Whether it was poverty or homophobia, Mrs. King bravely urged us to open our arms and hearts so that we may truly be our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers. “AIDS is a global crisis, a national crisis, a local crisis and a human crisis,” she told the Southern Christian Leadership Conference during an August 2001 address marking 20 years of the epidemic. “No matter where you live, AIDS is one of the most deadly killers of African Americans. And I think anyone who sincerely cares about the future of Black America had better be speaking out.”
That address was one of many times in which Mrs. King spoke eloquently about the movement to end this epidemic, and its place in Black America’s struggle for justice and equality. Her voice, her leadership, her compassion and her commitment will be sorely missed. But her legacy will live on in all of our individual commitments to building a secure future for our community.
STATEMENT: State of the Union 2006
The President's Mocking Call for 'Hope'
President Bush once again pledged bold action last night to stop the HIV/AIDS epidemic in America, citing the disproportionate impact among African Americans in particular. The Institute applauds that pledge. Unfortunately, this is not the first time we’ve heard it -- and we’re sadly still waiting for the administration to act in a way that is congruent with its words.
Since the debacle of the 2004 vice presidential debates – in which Vice President Cheney acknowledged ignorance of the epidemic’s intensity among Black women – the White House has become adept at mouthing the rhetoric of the struggle against AIDS. But the gap between those words and its actions has grown so large that what once sounded “hopeful” now carries the sting of mockery.
Last night, President Bush declared, “A hopeful society acts boldly to fight diseases like HIV/AIDS, which can be prevented and treated and defeated.” These words echoed those he delivered in his 2005 State of the Union and that he repeated on World AIDS Day in December. But the administration continues to advocate policies that will produce just the opposite result.
The White House’s budget proposal last year – which shaped the budget now awaiting final congressional approval – cut funding for the HIV prevention work of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention by $4.5 million. And it flat-lined almost every aspect of the Ryan White CARE Act for a third-straight year.
Meanwhile, the administration spent the last congressional session shoving its proposal to gut Medicaid through Congress. The budget Congress is now poised to approve would shift the program’s growing cost onto the backs of the poor families it was designed to help in the first place.
At the White House’s insistence, the bill will allow states to charge co-pays that may reach as high as hundreds of dollars for some. The Congressional Budget Office has said this cynical step would not save money through people actually paying the co-pays but rather by discouraging them from using Medicaid at all. Medicaid is the nation’s largest payer for AIDS treatment, and two-thirds of Blacks getting AIDS care pay for it with public health insurance.
In the coming days, the White House will submit its next budget proposal. Perhaps it will reflect the ideals of the “hopeful society” the President described. But given the goals outlined in the rest of his speech, we won’t hold our breath.
Even as President Bush called for renewed efforts to stop new infections, he championed unproven abstinence education as a strategy for promoting sexual health. The President was correct to note the steady improvements we have seen in sexual health among young people; but he was either uninformed or deliberately misleading when he attributed those advancements to abstinence promotion.
The CDC has clearly stated that research suggests the improving trends found in its national surveys on youth risk-behavior are an outgrowth of comprehensive sex education. No credible research exists showing abstinence-only sex education to work – indeed, some suggests that it makes matters worse, because those young people who do eventually have sex don’t know how to do so safely. Parents overwhelmingly agree with this commonsense: Nearly half of those surveyed in a 2004 Kaiser Family Foundation/Harvard/NPR poll said they wanted kids to learn about both delaying sex and protecting themselves.
Yet, the administration continues to ignore the urgings of both scientists and parents in its reckless effort to make schools bend to its unfounded beliefs. So while the White House has pushed cuts to the CDC’s proven prevention work with one hand, with the other it has more than doubled the annual budget for abstinence-only education since 2001.
Similarly, while President Bush said last night that AIDS can be “treated and defeated,” in the same speech he repeatedly vowed to continue taking apart the same safety-net programs that poor people with HIV/AIDS depend upon to get and stay healthy. He also urged Congress to entrench the reckless tax cuts that have left government unable to adequately fund these long-standing, crucial initiatives.
“Tonight, the state of our Union is strong,” the President insisted. But whether it be AIDS in particular or our well-being more broadly, many Americans are left wondering which Union the President is talking about. His administration’s actions have consistently betrayed the callousness hiding behind its professed compassion. Merely asserting otherwise with “hopeful” words doesn’t alter that reality.
African Americans pushing, prodding agenda onto their turf
By Phill Wilson
Toronto 2006 presents an extraordinary opportunity to change the trajectory of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Black America. Coming against a backdrop of three historic commemorations—the 25th anniversary of the first AIDS cases diagnosed in the United States, the 10th anniversary of HAART, and the first time in a decade that the IAS meeting is being held in North America— this year’s conference had a lot to live up to. It’s bringing together the best and brightest scientists, clinicians, government officials, members of industry, treatment activists and people living with HIV/AIDS from around the world.
If successful, this conference will also provide an opportunity for community advocates, health educators and policy makers from disproportionately impacted communities and developing countries to review and discuss the latest issues and trends in HIV/ AIDS research, treatment and prevention. For my community, this conference is an opportunity to bring the issue of AIDS in Black America to the global stage.
Black people have always born the brunt of the AIDS epidemic. We are all too painfully aware of the devastation already visited upon Africa caused by neglect and indifference. But you don’t have to go to Kinshasa, or Soweto, or Nairobi to find Black people with AIDS. In 2006, AIDS in America is a Black disease. Yet this topic has been all but ignored in the global HIV/AIDS discourse.
On the last day of the Bangkok conference, Dr. Helene Gayle and I were lamenting the invisibility of African Americans at the conference (Actually, I was ranting and she was graciously, listening). What a difference two years makes. Thanks to the support of Drs. Gayle and Mark Wainberg, the Conference Organising Committee, the Local Host Committee, and especially the Community Programme Committee, Black Americans have a strong and visible voice in this year’s meeting—not as strong as we’d like in the scientific track, but that’s another matter.
There are a multitude of programs and activities designed for and by Black Americans in the Global Village, and skills building programs. In addition to Gayle, Black Americans are playing a major role in a number of major sessions:
*Charlayne Hunter-Gault moderated the panel with “the two Bills” (Gates and Clinton)
*Dr. Kimberly Smith presented information on immune based therapy and Jacob Gayle moderated;
*Kevin Fenton and A. Cornelius Baker will be participating in the Developing World Epidemic in the Developed World (WEY03) on Wednesday at 2:15 pm – 3:45 pm.
For the first time in the history of these conferences, there is a delegation of Black Leaders from America participating. And, there are probably three times as many journalists from Black America covering the meeting.
But, having visibility on the global stage was never the goal. It was always meant to be a means to an end. So now, we’re standing in center stage. The new visibility brings new responsibilities. For Black America, it’s time to deliver. It doesn’t matter how many sessions we moderated, speeches we gave, or news articles our name appeared in, if in the end we don’t take action. I normally save my challenge for the end of the week. This year, I want to throw the gauntlet now at the beginning. I hope Black Americans attending AIDS2006 participate fully in every aspect of the conference. I hope you feel welcomed and included. I pray, you take what you learn this week and take action. Black people in America cannot wait for our government to save us—that help may never come. Maya Angelou said, “When we know better, we do better.” At the end of this week, we should all know better about something. I’m hoping we will use that knowledge to do better in our efforts stop AIDS in Black America.
Yours in the Struggle
Phill Wilson is the executive director of the Black AIDS Institute.
No Actions, No Words From U.S. Government At International AIDS Conference
By Phill Wilson
The challenges we face in fighting HIV are not unique to the United States. As we can see in several posters, presentations and workshops this week, efforts by several nations to slow AIDS in their countries have been insufficient, the United States should not be among them. Our leadership in supporting efforts to reduce AIDS across the globe is a reason for pride, but it must also be backed up by what we do at home. We lose credibility abroad when we have a raging epidemic in our own country. Why should black people living in Cape Town, Lagos or Nairobi believe the policies we advance will work for them when they clearly are not working for black people living in Chicago, Los Angeles or New York?
In recent years, the United States has focused much of its efforts at the United Nations, demanding less waste and more accountability on issues like increasing security and combating infectious diseases such as AIDS. As our leaders have repeatedly pointed out, lofty rhetoric about the world’s problems must be met with measurable action to address them. This week, the world is looking to Toronto to find out what is new about the state of the AIDS pandemic. The U.S. had the opportunity to show that “actions over words” speaks volumes; something that we can all take to heart. To do that, however, we need to employ similar leadership to respond and ultimately halt the spread of the AIDS epidemic in our own country as we have demonstrated in Africa and other hard-hit regions of the world.
There is ample evidence that the domestic response to HIV/AIDS in the U.S. is not what it needs to be. A clue—if not the first clue—is the U.S. government is AWOL at this international conference. Where is the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, Michael Leavitt? Where is the head of the CDC, Dr. Judy Gerberding Where is Dr. Elizabeth M. Duke, HRSA Administrator?
But more importantly than where are they, is what are they doing? Effective, evidence-based HIV prevention, our best defense against the epidemic, has stalled in the U.S., as the number of new HIV infections in the nation remains steady at 40,000 per year since the early 1990’s. Several African nations reported better results in decreasing HIV infections in May at the UNGASS meeting in New York.
Domestic efforts to fight HIV are insufficiently coordinated, and in some cases even fail the test of scientific evidence. The U.S. still lacks a comprehensive national plan to provide AIDS prevention, treatment, and support to its own citizens. Twenty-five years into this epidemic, an estimated 25 percent of Americans living with the virus don’t even know they have it. That number is probably noticeably higher for black Americans. Only half of people who need regular HIV treatment receive it. Stigma against people with HIV and discrimination in health care, employment, housing, and immigration, which the U.S. rightfully deplores in other countries, remain serious obstacles to efforts to promote HIV prevention, testing and treatment here at home.
The insufficient response to our domestic AIDS epidemic is not the fault of any one president or Congress; but when over 400 black Americans contract the virus every week, we must bring our domestic AIDS efforts up to the international standards we advocate for others. Our first step should be to establish a national HIV/AIDS strategy across federal, state and local agencies that emphasizes accountability and focuses on outcomes like reducing HIV incidence and increasing access to care. The federal government should issue an annual report on the impact of our HIV prevention and treatment efforts, and identify ways to improve programs and policies based on results.
Second, we need to be rigorous in supporting AIDS prevention programs that are driven by scientific evidence, not political ideology. Our inability to reduce HIV infections may be based in the fact that the United States is supporting programs with little scientific justification, such as abstinence-only education, at the expense of programs that have been proven effective, such as clear and comprehensive sex education for young people and needle exchange for injection drug users. Some of these efforts might make some individuals uncomfortable, but they are the best approaches we have to preventing HIV infections and saving young black lives.
When the U.S. joined other nations in adopting the UN Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS in 2001, we also committed to reach the communities most vulnerable to the disease with effective AIDS prevention and services.
Yet, five years later, communities of color, especially Black Americans, women, gay men, and the poor continue to bear the greatest burden of this disease. Black Americans account for over half of new HIV infections in the U.S., despite being just 13 percent of the population, and AIDS is the leading cause of death for black women ages 25-34, in the U.S. This is not the hallmark of a strong and just national response to the disease.
Yours in the Struggle,
Phill Wilson is the executive director of the Black AIDS Institute.