“We Cannot Give Up the Fight Against AIDS”

By Jesse Brooks

Hundreds of advocates marched on July 12 through the streets of Durban, South Africa to call attention to recent PEPFAR budget

On Sunday I will be joining thousands of other advocates to call out to the  world with one voice: “Keep the Promise”. The “Keep the Promise” March on Washington is expected to be one of the highlights of  the 19th International AIDS Conference (IAC), which will be held in downtown Washington D.C., from July 22 to July 27. The conference itself will be attended by over 20,000 delegates, composed of scientists, community leaders, advocates and activists from over 200 countries who face the daily reality that AIDS is still here and it is still deadly, a fact that we cannot allow to slip out of our consciousness. The Washington DC marchers want world leaders and governments to realize that although there have been victories in the fight against HIV/AIDS, we still have a long way to go before AIDS is defeated. We cannot afford to give up the fight. The march begins at the Washington Monument, where thousands of participates will receive a souvenir red umbrella that will help to form a giant AIDS ribbon for commemorative aerial photos. The “Promise” program includes a performance by musician and activist Wyclef Jean. Joining him onstage will be keynote speaker, former U.S. Congressman Ambassador Andrew Young, civil rights leader Rev. Al Sharpton, broadcaster and author Tavis Smiley, prominent democratic intellectual Dr. Cornel West and in a special message from South African human rights activist and Nobel Peace Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Comedienne Margaret Cho will serve as host. The march comes at a critical time when public interest in the epidemic is waning here at home and abroad.  Absent today are headlines and news reports. This complacency is largely due to the discovery of lifesaving antiretroviral drugs that have revolutionized HIV/AIDS treatment. The new drugs allow people infected with HIV/AIDS to live long lives and in consequence, many people have begun to believe the problem was fixed. HIV/AIDS is very much alive and is still killing people every day. In the U.S. 1.2 million people are living with HIV/AIDS, and the CDC estimates indicate that in 2010 more than 25,300 people were diagnosed with AIDS. Annually, over 16,000 people die of AIDS-related causes in this country, while over 2,000 people are on waiting lists for the AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP), which is funded by state and federal governments to provide assistance to low-income people living with HIV/AIDS. The “Keep the Promise” Declaration also calls for the nation to keep its commitment to the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which provides funding for HIV/AIDS treatment programs in developing countries. Recent cuts to PEPFAR represent an alarming retreat on AIDS treatment and care, which signals the wavering of resolve by the U.S. to fight the AIDS epidemic. Hundreds of advocates marched on July 12 through the streets of Durban, South Africa to call attention to recent PEPFAR budget cuts.
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