August 6, 2008
-- The fight to end the global AIDS pandemic has found a staunch supporter in Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), co-author of PEPFAR, legislation that provides billions of dollars to prevent new HIV infections throughout the developing world. But her commitment to end the crisis in America is keenly targeted toward the African American community where she wants to see the problem fixed.
"This is about life and death for millions of people, so you have to be committed," Lee said, following her remarks at a news conference Tuesday at the XVII International AIDS Conference. "When you see so many people dying each and every day, and you know you can make some small difference in their life, you have to do something."
PEPFAR provides more than $3 billion a year to 15 countries hardest-hit by HIV: Botswana, Cote d'Ivoire, Ethiopia, Guyana, Haiti, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Vietnam and Zambia.
While the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief is impacted by its own set of limitations in the countries that are receiving aid, Lee has announced her concern that the U.S. continues to neglect its own citizens, including African Americans, who are disproportionately represented among newly infected cases of HIV, according to a study recently released by the Black AIDS Institute.
"The report Left Behind provides startling evidence that, while we excel at fighting AIDS overseas, we have not sufficiently addressed the growing African American epidemic within our own borders," Lee said.
In addition to the role of government, Lee believes it will take the will of the people -- Black people -- to force government officials and politicians do more to address the HIV/AIDS crises in the U.S.
"We need a major lobbying effort that includes every African American community in the country to go sit in their member of Congress' office to say we need $1.3 billion to help end HIV in this country. Once the political pressure is put on this Congress and this White House, then we'll see some action," she stated.
"A lot of grassroots people are motivated already and deal with the fact of neglect of our government by struggling daily in their lives trying to take care of their families. But people need to connect their daily lives to what decisions their political leaders are making and let them know they are watching. People need to get involved in a national political effort to get our politicians to do the right thing."
Lee, who also serves as the West Coast chair for the Obama Campaign, said she wants to see "our next president put billions of dollars in HIV/AIDS and I want to see the next president continue with the commitment to fix the problems of PEPFAR."
Lee does not stop there. She said she wants to see infection rates drop and more people with access to anti-viral drugs. She wants young teenagers to have access to comprehensive sex education and she wants to get rid of the abstinence-only program funded by the Bush Administration.
For African Americans, Lee wants "rates to go down to zero, and I want this disease stamped-off the face of the earth."
On Wednesday, Phill Wilson, CEO of the Black AIDS Institute will present Lee with a special award honoring her for her leadership for bridging the divide between the global epidemic and the domestic epidemic. Wilson said, "There have been very few members of Congress who have been able to advocate for the very real need to take a leadership role on the global front, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, while being painfully aware of the devastating effect AIDS is having on the African American community domestically."
Denise Rolark Barnes is publisher of The Washington Informer, a weekly African American newspaper serving the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. firstname.lastname@example.org