Advocates Deliver the Keys to PEPFAR Success

On the eve of a major vote on PEPFAR, AIDS advocates gathered to deliver the keys to unlocking the solution to the Global AIDS crisis to Congress.

Advocates came by buses and vans from Philadelphia and New York to join colleagues in Washington demanding changes to the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). Organizations representing people from across the country and around the world joined together to deliver the keys to improving PEPFAR to Congress.

The advocates included people living with HIV, students, health care professionals, each carrying a large card board key with words like "treatment", "health care professionals", and "family planning" written on them, representing the power Congress has to "unlock the solution to the global AIDS crisis," according to a press release distributed at the rally.

"As the wealthiest country in the world, the United States has a deep responsibility to help fund HIV treatment for those in need," said Jose DeMarco, of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP).

"PEPFAR still doesn't address the needs of women and girls, and that is where Congress needs to focus," said Chandra Crawford of Women of Color United. A colleague from the same organization, Christine Park, quickly added, "Women and girls in many parts of the world do not have the right to be abstinent, to negotiate sex. That is why women controlled contraceptives, such as the female condom, or prevention methods such as microbicides are so important."

Dr. Michael J. Ehlert, President of the American Medical Student Association (AMSA) rallied to focus on the importance of health care professionals. "The United States represents one-third of the global economy so we should pay for one-third of the health care professionals that are needed." Stephanie Jamison, the Global AIDS organizer for AMSA added, "The provisions dealing with health care professionals are the backbone of moving PEPFAR toward a sustainable model by ensuring trained professionals are on the ground. We're concerned that both the House and Senate version of PEPFAR are vague in this regard. We need to make sure that we're providing for 140,000 professionals, not 139,999 health care workers, and one doctor or nurse."

Another issue on the minds of rally participants was the anti-prostitution pledge that prevents US AID from going to organizations that refuse to denounce prostitution, making the provision of health services more difficult. According to Jamairous Nickerson who represented the Student Global AIDS Coaltion, from William Patterson University in New Jersey, "Sex workers need to feel safe. The anti-prostitution pledge needs to be removed so that services can more easily be provided, like health care and prevention. Because someone is a sex worker does not make them less of a human being."

The advocates' spirits were hopeful as they left their rally point, despite a gray drizzly day in DC, as they made the short walk to the Capitol and take their message directly to legislators. Sponsors included, African Services Committee, ACT UP Philadelphia, Advocates for Youth, American Medical Student Association, Americans for Informed Democracy, Center for Health and Gender Equity, Health GAP, Student Campaign for Child Survival, Student Global AIDS Campaign, and University Coalitions for Global Health.