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AIDS Policy Is Running Amok

AIDS Policy Is Running Amok


The other day I was having a telephone conversation with an activist in New York. At one point he referred to President Bush as 'your president.' We laughed about it and continued our conversation. But the comment has been on my mind ever since. It reflects one of the problems with the current state of AIDS activism. Most activists are not happy that George W. Bush is president. They don't think he got the job fairly. They are suspicious of him and his administration. They also don't like the direction the Administration is going. I agree with these sentiments wholeheartedly, but I've got a news flash: It don't matter! To those who say George W. Bush isn't truly president: But he is, Blanche. He is! How can activists influence AIDS policy if we are not in regular, if not constant, dialogue with the key policy makers? Activists were taken by surprise when President Bush announced his $15 billion global AIDS initiative during the State of the Union address. Activists didn't seem to have a clue when the CDC announced its new change in direction. And activists don't seem to be putting forward names to be nominated for the various federal HIV advisory committees. During his inauguration address, President Bush said he wanted to be a president for 'all Americans.' I don't think it matters if he meant it or not. The point is, he said it. As activists, it is our job to move HIV policy in the direction that is in the best interest of people infected with, affected by, or at risk of infection. Focus must be the call of the day. Everything I hear about the AIDS advocacy efforts in Washington suggests that the national organizations are in shambles. We appear to be disorganized and ineffective. The National Organizations Responding to AIDS is falling apart. AIDS Action is under attack. There has been a tremendous amount of turnover at all of the national organizations. And no one is organizing local and regional organizations or people living with HIV into an effective advocacy force. It's no wonder that the Administration is having its way with AIDS policy. We need to regroup. Activists must get out of the partisan politics game. Policies are not automatically bad just because they come from the Administration. We must go back to developing clear analyses of HIV policies'looking at the good, the bad, and the indifferent; praising programs that show promise while criticizing poor programs; and putting forward recommendations that truly address the needs of people affected by HIV. A president's addressing HIV in such a prominent way in a State of the Union address was unprecedented and a huge breakthrough in AIDS policy. Activists should say that. The $15 billion pledge is a tremendous boon for the global AIDS effort. We should say that. The restrictions on the prevention dollars are a disaster. We should say that. The president's budget did not reflect his pledge. We should be pointing that out. Supporting prevention efforts that target HIV-positive people is critical to eventually ending the epidemic. AIDS activists should be saying that. Dismantling or backing away from comprehensive prevention efforts is a deadly strategy. AIDS activists should be saying that also. I don't mean to suggest there aren't people who are saying these things. There are. But there is no national analysis going on that demonstrates a clear, goal-driven progressive anti-HIV strategy. Finally, activists must stop the turf wars and personality battles that are plaguing our current efforts. Things are not looking good. We are losing ground fast. The 'other side' knows what it wants and is serious about getting it. We can do no less. Wilson is the director of the African-American HIV University, a two-year fellowship program, and the founding director of the Black AIDS Institute.

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Phill Wilson