Presidential Candidate Senator Barack Obama Gives Five-Point Plan for Fighting HIV
This interview took place in 2006. To view Obama's World AIDS Day message from 2007, click here
Q+A with U.S. Senator Barack Obama, Democrat of Illinois
What is the most critical AIDS issue facing the African-American community and how can it be best addressed?
Despite the many programs, initiatives and advances in medical treatment, the HIV/AIDS epidemic continues to take a devastating toll on the African-American community. We are experiencing the highest rates of new infections and deaths compared to all other groups. Indeed, although African Americans comprise only 12 percent of the U.S. population, we account for 40 percent of the 930,000 estimated AIDS cases diagnosed since the epidemic began.
During 2000-2003, HIV/AIDS rates for African-American females were 19 times the rates for white females; rates for African-American males were seven times those for white males. My home state of Illinois has not been spared -- it ranks ninth out of the top 10 states with the highest numbers of African Americans living with HIV/AIDS.
The irony and the tragedy of these statistics is that HIV/AIDS is a completely preventable disease. As such, I believe that the most critical AIDS issue facing the African-American community is the need for prevention. We have not adequately educated ourselves and each other about this disease, nor have we identified effective ways to empower individuals to change their sexual practices to protect themselves from HIV infection. Obviously I am not an expert in the area of HIV prevention, but I do know that until we have an open and honest dialogue within the African-American community about what we need to do, or do better, we will not be able to stop the silent but deadly spread of this disease.
Where is the least progress being made in combating the epidemic in the black community?
We simply have not identified or implemented effective prevention strategies for reducing the rate of transmission of this disease in the African-American community. Given the continued explosion of HIV infections in the community, it is clear that we have a long way to go before we get a handle on the disease in the black community. However, I would say that our federal agency partners have identified those groups -- especially women, and men who have sex with men -- which are at highest risk for infection, and have taken steps to target these populations with initiatives and funding support to community organizations, including minority organizations that can best outreach to high-risk groups. Support to these organizations remains critical if we are ever to achieve any real success.
What are the top myths you have encountered in the community and how can they be countered?
The most dangerous myth about HIV/AIDS in our community is the misconception that it does not affect African Americans. AIDS has long been stereotyped as a white, specifically gay man's, disease, but the unfortunate reality is that it has impacted all populations, regardless of race, ethnicity or socioeconomic status. In order to counter this myth, I think that the conversation about HIV/AIDS needs to occur more readily, and not just with our families but also in our churches, schools and other community settings. Our grass-roots and community-based groups are trusted brokers of these dialogues, and continued support of these organizations by the federal government and other funders is critical.
How would you rate President Bush and his administration in addressing the many HIV issues facing the African-American community? What about his emphasis on the epidemic in Africa?
The President has publicly acknowledged the critical situation our nation and the world is facing with the HIV/AIDS epidemic. He has discussed it in speeches and has specifically acknowledged the disproportionate burden of the epidemic on women and communities of color.
Yet, this public recognition simply has not translated into adequate investment in HIV/AIDS programs such as the Ryan White CARE Act or the Minority AIDS Initiative. Certainly many of these programs have been spared draconian cuts or elimination in the President's budget, which has not been true for other critical programs such as the Healthy Communities Access Program. However, when it comes to HIV/AIDS, to stand in place is to fall further and further behind, and this is what is happening in the African-American community. Without adequate funding the President's words remain empty rhetoric.
With respect to the epidemic in Africa, let me start by saying that the continued spread of HIV/AIDS across the world highlights the critical need for international partnership and strategies. In this day of global trade and commerce, our success in eradicating HIV/AIDS here in the United States will not happen without similar efforts and success in other countries. Our assistance and attention to the epidemic in Africa is not just the smart thing to do -- it is also the right thing to do. In sub-Saharan Africa, where an estimated 26 million people were living with HIV at the end of 2005 and more than 12 million children have been orphaned by AIDS, the devastation is simply incomprehensible, and I commend President Bush for his international efforts.
If you were the President, what would be the top five Executive Orders, policies or other positions you would take to end the epidemic, improve treatment, lower transmission rates and so on?
This is not an easy task, and given that the HIV/AIDS epidemic continues to evolve, what may seem logical today may not be a top priority tomorrow. In addition, successful eradication is unlikely without a comprehensive, large-scale societal investment in improving the educational and economic opportunities of our most vulnerable populations, which are disproportionately affected by this disease.
That being said, my top five priorities are the following:
Strengthening the public health infrastructure.
We know that the federal government's investment in prevention is only a fraction of its investment in medical care and treatment. The HIV/AIDS epidemic is just one example of this administration being "penny-wise and pound-foolish." This nation must increase its investment in the federal and state public health agencies, and equally important, in our community-based organization partners who are truly the foot-soldiers in this prevention war against AIDS.
Promoting screening for HIV/AIDS.
Studies have indicated that about one-fourth of Americans infected with HIV are unaware of their status, and these individuals will continue to transmit the deadly infection. These individuals need to be identified, educated and treated.
Expanding coverage for HIV/AIDS treatment and services.
A number of programs, particularly the Ryan White CARE Act, have helped so many individuals get the care they need, allowing them to remain healthy, and live longer and more productive lives. Yet, so many individuals continue to fall through the cracks, and the overall federal investment is inadequate given the scope and magnitude of the epidemic.
Supporting research for novel drugs and treatments.
HIV has continued to mutate, thwarting vaccine-development efforts and rendering many of our current treatments ineffective. The federal government must continue to support and accelerate research for development of effective medications and treatments, which should include microbicides which hold tremendous promise for HIV prevention for women.
Providing comprehensive sex education.
Promotion of abstinence from sex outside of monogamous relationships must be part of any successful HIV-prevention strategy, but it cannot be the entire strategy. Information about condoms and other effective tools must be made readily available. We are losing the battle against the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and we cannot allow partisan politics to trump sound, scientific policies.
This article was provided by TheBody.com.
Comment by: nicole
Sat., Jun. 19, 2010 at 11:07 am EDT
we love america but aids need a true cure
Comment by: A.D.ATKINS
Tue., Jun. 9, 2009 at 8:34 pm EDT
START EDUCATING THE YOUTH AT A YOUNG AGE. GO TO MYSPACE.COM/LIFESTORYZ LISTEN TO "STRAP IT UP" FOCUS ON ABSTINENCE--BUT IF IT DOES NOT WORK,EDUCATE,,EDUCATE,, AND EDUCATE !!! WE HAVE UNEDUCATED PEOPLE OUT HERE AND SOME WHO JUST DO NOT CARE.
Comment by: Annette
Tue., Feb. 24, 2009 at 9:54 am EST
Well spoken Joshua! Who gives the African-American-Community "the right" to say "We need more help than anyone else", "Our rate ist up to 40% infected people"? First of all..why did it became such a high rate to begin with? And NO, nobody infected an African-American-Person on purpose or 'cause of the "wrong skin color". Don't even... And secondly to save a human being shouldn't matter about the race. Or who wants to to judge who can live instead of another? HIV makes no differences about color, race, nationality, country, if you are rich or poor... Shame on anyone thinking this way! I can't believe some of the statements here and as long as people still trying to point the fingers at others to be blamend for this disease we still have a long long way to go. I guess we haven't learn a thing within over 25 years!!! So typical for the most of the human beings here on earth!
Comment by: Tamara
Fri., Feb. 13, 2009 at 10:26 am EST
Good point, Joshua. I also believe that the continuance of limiting HIV/AIDS to the African American race will only reap an ignorant mindset that it is the Black ppls disease. But I also believe the facts should be acknowledged that Blacks now represent 40% of the rates, and my race needs more help than anyone. Education of all ethnicities on the disease will prevent further infections.
Comment by: stanley
Sat., Dec. 27, 2008 at 4:25 am EST
I think the time of preaching awareness and education is over, we are just tired of the same things for over 30yrs of AIDS, any serious leader should show seriously his efforts in erradicating HIV with a cure and a vaccine.
Comment by: Tesa
Sun., Nov. 16, 2008 at 4:43 pm EST
I'm so satisfied within my soul, to know that people all over the world are being made aware of this ongoing epidemic such as HIV/AIDS. However I know we still have along way to go. I pray that somewhere in the near future we find a cure. Especially with all of the trillions of dollars being spent on efforts such as this. I Am very greatful that it is not so embarrasing for people to share their stories as it was when I was growing up. God bless our nation and I hope I have provided some positive insight to all that takes the time to read my comment!
Comment by: T. G.
Tue., Oct. 28, 2008 at 8:56 am EDT
Too bad the Virginia guy berates Obama with the lies promoted by opponents to poison the minds of the gullible. He hardly merits the right to vote. In Obama's comments on approaching HIV/AIDS I do think that we are all in this boat together, black, white, and whatever. However, I can recognize that the black community is in need of more concerted efforts to improve their condition. It is generally the most disenfranchised that are least able to conquer a malady like HIV, but we are all at risk. Empowerment is a necessary part to the fight against HIV/AIDS wherever you may be. Hopefully an Obama presidency will look to empower those who need it most and who have been denied it by the current administration. A great start is Obama's message of inclusion for all, even the gay community. That IS change... for the good.
Comment by: Mboya David
Sat., Oct. 25, 2008 at 12:16 pm EDT
The sooner one knows his HIV status, the better. One can start treatment immediately to prevent progression of the virus. Sen Obama demonstrated this when he took an HIV test when visiting Kenya. It was not a show off. Just telling the world, the sooner you know the better. You are better off knowing hence starting treatment than remaining in the dark and die sooner.
Comment by: Joshua
Tue., Oct. 14, 2008 at 6:11 am EDT
I feel that Obama is our hero, and he was won me over and WILL get my vote...but i sort agree with "Steve"...I'm a white male, contracted HIV at age 16, now 21, and every time I research current HIV topics or plans, it all revolves around all the African Americans infected. I'm not racist at all, but we need to stop segregating the HIV virus. African Americans are NOT the only race fighting this disease, we all are. If headlines like these continue, it will develop more ignorant beleives against African Americans, just like how everyone thought HIV was a "gay" virus, soon ignorant people will be saying that it's a "african" virus. I know that African Americans are the highest percentile, but let's get over segregation, look at everyone as the SAME RACE, because all it is doing is causing more ignorance, and making all the other infected races feel like they are only trying to stop the virus in one specific race.
Sun., Sep. 21, 2008 at 2:10 pm EDT
lol "this guy" can't even say his real name..haha how funny. People like you shouldn't be able to voice opinions publicly. Half the things you said weren't true and are rumors. And to point out the fact that his wife was a black panther wasa dumb, because there were actual presidents whose parents or family members were Klansmen. Most of the presidents we had owned slaves and didn't want to end slavery. So what are you really saying??? lol So ignorant. And terrorist's house?? lol Obama isn't even Muslim and not all Muslims are terrorists. Why don't you research before you speak huh? lol (And black panthers never hung anybody by the way. They tried to organize the black community) lol So silly That's okay, we can't all have common sense.
Comment by: this guy
Thu., Sep. 18, 2008 at 1:01 pm EDT
and I truly beleive obama has the least ammount of experience of any party nominated candidate in the last 100 years, while this is one of the toughest times in Americas history. So yea, vote for obama, the baby killer, the least pragmatic candidate ever, a muslim who announced his presidency from a terrorists house, someone who refused to even salute our flag, yea he's the guy, the one who wants to move us towards socialism, the one who's wifre was a former black panther, yes lets ellect him, the guy thats more celeb than politician. . . . . . no thanks. but if he does in fact care about aids good for him, but so does everyone else. not worthy of my vote
Comment by: Rashieta
Mon., Sep. 15, 2008 at 4:33 pm EDT
Barack stresses the need to help African Americans because of the devastating numbers that affect African Americans. The number of deaths are climbing everyday, and don't show any signs of slowing down. I live in an all black community and I see first hand how bad things are with our community. If you look at Barack's website, he spoke of a helping the WORLD with AIDS...maybe you should check it out.
Comment by: Steve
Thu., Jul. 24, 2008 at 3:46 pm EDT
i noticed barack's five point plan on AFRICAN AMERICANS with HIV what about gay white people or white people in general? or do i already know the answer?
Comment by: Richard
Tue., Jul. 22, 2008 at 11:50 pm EDT
Please, PLEASE, PLEASE, everyone vote for Obama for President. We can NOT afford another 4 years of George Bush, and his administration!
I truely beleave that Obama will take this country in the right direction. I beleave he will help us in the battle against HIV/Aids, and help the gay community!
PLEASE, PLEASE, go and VOTE. This election is so important FOR ALL OF US!
Comment by: Ajlopez
Tue., Jul. 8, 2008 at 12:26 pm EDT
It will all come down to that mighty dollar. Unfortunately the economy has been handled foolishly and bailing out corporations will be priority before any real changes occur. Vote Obama.
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