Third Annual World AIDS Day Report Card Continues to Give Failing Grades to U.S. Response
WASHINGTON - December 1 - The Human Rights Campaign released its third annual World AIDS Day report card today highlighting yet another year of failed policies to combat the HIV/AIDS global pandemic. The report card, for the last three years, has rated the U.S. Congress’ and the Bush administration’s response to the HIV/AIDS crisis in four key areas: prevention, care and treatment, research and global AIDS. This year, in honor of the 25th anniversary of the first reported case of AIDS, the report card includes a new category evaluating our nation’s leaders on efforts to combat AIDS-related discrimination.
“We are hopeful that with a new congressional leadership the failed policies of the past will not continue to be repeated,” said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. “Since we began this report card three years ago, the Bush administration and congressional leadership’s response to this global pandemic has been grossly inadequate. The American people sent a message in these midterm elections that they want to see real actions on issues affecting people’s lives, and we are optimistic that their voices will be heard in relation to the efforts to combat this disease.”
Since the Human Rights Campaign issued its first World AIDS Day report card in 2004, the grades have continued to fall well below passing. The 2004 grades were: Prevention (F); Care and Treatment (D); Research (C); and Global AIDS (C). The 2005 grades were: Prevention (F); Care and Treatment (F); Research (D); and Global AIDS (C).
“As in years past, this report card does not take away from the extraordinary work that has been done by many outspoken champions fighting to put real policies in place to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS,” said Solmonese. “Unfortunately, too often in the past their courageous work has been overshadowed by a government leadership that was more focused on allowing ideology to drive our response to HIV and AIDS. As the new members of Congress are sworn in, we look forward to working with a leadership that will seek real, scientific solutions to protect the well-being of all Americans.”
The 2006 report card is as follows:
The Bush administration and the Republican congressional leadership continued to pursue policies that undermine effective prevention strategies on HIV/AIDS. The only federal funding stream for sex education in our schools remains limited to unproven and medically inaccurate abstinence-only-until-marriage programs that fail to teach youth how to protect themselves from HIV. This year, congressional leaders jettisoned language unanimously passed by the Senate mandating that these programs be medically accurate.
Furthermore, the Bush administration added additional restrictions to these federally funded abstinence-only programs mandating that “the term ‘marriage’ must be defined as ‘only a legal union between one man and one woman as a husband and wife,’ and the word ‘spouse’ refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.” This new anti-gay restriction illustrates that these programs are not driven by public health concerns, but rather by narrow right-wing ideology.
Care and Treatment: D
Years of inadequate funding levels for the Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency Act turned this year’s reauthorization of this crucial program into a zero-sum game pitting states with newer and emerging HIV/AIDS epidemics against those that have been the traditional epicenters of the disease. States with newer and emerging epidemics have traditionally been short-changed by the Ryan White CARE Act and are in desperate need of more funding to provide life-saving treatment and care. However, since Congress has effectively flat-funded the program for six years, new formulas that would give these states critically needed funds would inevitably result in deep and possibly destabilizing cuts for the communities with the plurality of current cases. The Ryan White CARE Act, the payer of last resort, is a crucial part of our nation’s response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and it is extremely disappointing that the program’s reauthorization deteriorated into a formula fight, pitting low-income Americans with HIV/AIDS against each other depending on where they live.
Last December, Congress approved a Labor-Health and Human Services appropriations bill that gave less than a 1 percent funding increase to the National Institute of Health, the smallest percentage increase since 1970. In February of this year, the president released his fiscal year 2007 budget which proposed flat-funding NIH, specifically cutting $15 million for AIDS research. Meanwhile, Congress plans on passing a continuing resolution instead of passing a Labor-HHS appropriations bill for fiscal year 2007, which means cuts for NIH. Furthermore, the House of Representatives passed a bill to reauthorize NIH that capped funding increases at 5 percent each year, which is barely enough to keep up with the inflation index for biomedical research and development.
As people living with HIV/AIDS around the world hope for the development of microbicides and other crucial preventative and treatment options — and one day a cure — cuts to AIDS research and to NIH mean that new funding for this crucial research will be extremely limited.
Global AIDS: C
The Bush administration and Congress have made significant steps in raising awareness and dedicating funding to fight the global AIDS pandemic. Unfortunately, many of these important initiatives have come with ideological strings attached.
In April, the U.S. Government Accountability Office released a report reviewing the expenditure of HIV prevention funds through the President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief. Current law mandates that 33 percent of PEPFAR prevention funds must be dedicated to abstinence-until-marriage programs. The GAO found that the abstinence-only restriction hindered the ability of HIV/AIDS organizations respond to local prevention needs. The earmark forced many programs to cut spending for mother-to-child transmission prevention, contributed to a lack of understanding of cultural norms and reduced the ability to appropriately target vulnerable populations. Instead of outsourcing our failed prevention policies overseas, U.S. global AIDS policy should allow local organizations flexibility to provide the most effective HIV prevention possible.
Ending AIDS-Related Stigma/Discrimination: F
The 2006 UNAIDS Report on the Global Epidemic asserts that understanding that homophobia is one of the key “drivers of the epidemic” is “absolutely fundamental to the long-term response to AIDS.” According to these experts, ending the AIDS pandemic “will depend largely on changing the social norms, attitudes and behaviors that contribute to its expansion” through the enactment of “laws and policies that directly challenge gender inequality and bias against … men who have sex with men.” This year, we add a new category to HRC’s World AIDS Day report card dedicated to evaluating the government’s performance in this realm.
In June of this year, on the 25th anniversary of the day that the first AIDS case was reported by the Centers for Disease Control, President Bush held a press conference to call on Congress to pass an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would permanently ban same-sex couples from enjoying equal rights and protections of marriage. The president, surrounded by some of the most virulent anti-gay and homophobic voices in the nation, told the amendment’s proponents, “I’m proud to stand with you.”
And last spring, Congress stripped out of a child safety bill a provision passed by the House of Representatives by a wide, bipartisan margin to give law enforcement tools to confront hate violence against GLBT Americans, calling it “a poison pill.” When our nation’s leaders use same-sex couples as political scare tactics and deny law enforcement resources to confront violence driven by anti-gay violence, it is clear that they do not understand the implications that fueling homophobia has on creating a culture that is up to the task of ending HIV/AIDS.