Democratic Candidates Debate HIV Prevention

The Democratic candidates debated domestic issues Thursday night, in front of a primarily African-American audience. Michel Martin asked the candidates about their plans for HIV/AIDS prevention.

The Democratic candidates debated domestic issues at Howard University in the District of Columbia last night, in front of a primarily African-American audience. The debate was restricted to one-minute answers, without dialogue between candidates. Michel Martin of NPR asked the candidates about their plans for HIV/AIDS prevention.

Ms. Martin:

I'm sure you'll agree there are a lot of beautiful young people out here in the audience today, and we're very pleased to be here at Howard University. So you can imagine how disturbed we were to find out from the Centers for Disease Control that African-Americans, though 17 percent of all American teenagers, they are 69 percent of the population of teenagers diagnosed with HIV/AIDS.

Governor and candidates, what is the plan to stop and to protect these young people from this scourge?

Governor Bill Richardson responded by talking about comprehensive education and funding prevention efforts in Africa. Senator John Edwards focused on funding—for finding a cure for AIDS, Ryan White legislation and Medicaid to cover drugs and treatment for AIDS.

Senator Barack Obama added discussion of prevention and overcoming the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS; then he looked at a broader picture, linking social issues:

… the problems of poverty, lack of health care, these are—lack of educational opportunity—are all interconnected. And to some degree, the African-American community is weakened. It has a disease to its immune system. When we are impoverished, when people don't have jobs, they are more likely to be afflicted not just with AIDS but with substance abuse problems, with guns in the streets. And so it is important for us to look at the whole body here and make absolutely certain that we are providing the kinds of economic development opportunities and jobs that will create healthier communities, that we've got universal health care that ensures that people can get regular treatments. Those are the kinds of strategies that over the long term are going to make a difference in our communities.

Health care and education, were Representative Dennis Kucinich's answer—particularly comprehensive sex ed and universal healthcare. Senator Mike Gravel declared that stopping America's war on drugs would improve the health of the African-American community. Senator Chris Dodd underscored other candidates' answers and suggested broader usage of school-based clinics.

Senator Hillary Clinton's response was well received by the audience. From The New York Times:

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York drew loud applause when she denounced the White House for its response to the AIDS epidemic in black America, moments after Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico complimented Mr. Bush's effort to finance a campaign to curb H.I.V. infection in Africa.

"You know, it is hard to disagree with anything that has been said, but let me just put this in perspective," Mrs. Clinton said. "If H.I.V./AIDS were the leading cause of death of white women between the ages of 25 and 34, there would be an outraged outcry in this country."

"If we don't begin to take it seriously and address it the way we did back in the ‘90s, when it was primarily a gay men's disease," Mrs. Clinton said, "we will never get the services and the public education that we need."

Watch Senator Joe Biden's response below: