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President Clinton Speaks at the Democratic National Convention

August 28, 2008

President Clinton Speaks at the Democratic National Convention
Former President Bill Clinton repeated at last night's Democratic National Convention a message he first delivered to the AIDS community earlier this month: It's time for America to recommit itself to the struggle against HIV/AIDS at home. Clinton's forceful, urgent statement at a convention otherwise void of any substantive discussion about HIV/AIDS showed just the sort of national political leadership we need today, and must now be followed up with action from his party's new leaders.

In describing why he is delivering his full support to Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama, Clinton declared, "He will continue and enhance our nation's global leadership in an area in which I am deeply involved, the fight against AIDS, TB and malaria, including -- and this is very important -- a renewal of the battle against HIV/AIDS here at home." At the International AIDS Conference in Mexico City three weeks ago, Clinton made similar remarks, pledging to direct more of his foundation's resources to the domestic fight. Both statements come as the U.S. epidemic faces a crucial turning point.

On August 3, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shocked the world by announcing that the domestic epidemic is 40 percent larger than we have believed for more than a decade -- and still growing. The study confirmed that Black Americans are bearing the brunt of this expanding problem, accounting for 45 percent of new infections.

The CDC study's release coincided with Washington's decision to dramatically expand America's commitment to fund AIDS treatment in poor nations -- a long overdue and deeply important act of leadership. But as a Black AIDS Institute report, Left Behind, points out, that commitment stands in stark contrast to our domestic effort.

Domestic AIDS funding has remained flat or been cut every year since 2001, even as the epidemic has grown by more than 55,000 new infections each year. That reality prompted CDC's prevention director, Kevin Fenton, to warn in announcing the agency's August 3 study that our resource commitment has lagged far behind the need. As the New York Times editorial board put it, "Surely we should be doing as much to prevent the spread of the AIDS virus in our own communities as we are trying to do abroad."

Barack Obama's AIDS platform commits the candidate to do just that if elected. Most notably, Obama has vowed to draft and begin implementing a coordinated national AIDS strategy within the first 100 days of his administration. The U.S. wisely requires any nation receiving foreign assistance for its HIV/AIDS effort to create the same sort of plan. Shockingly, however, we have never had one of our own.

Over the last eight years, America has sat by and watched its AIDS epidemic spiral out of control. Former President Clinton has made a call for us all to end that passivity. Obama has committed himself and his party to act. And now all Americans who want to see this epidemic end must do their part, too. If Obama is elected, we must hold him accountable to his campaign promises on AIDS. But more than that, we must help create the political landscape that will allow him to follow through. We must be engaged in the political and policy making process from the most local level through to our national representatives in Congress. We must tell any and every policy maker who claims to represent us and our communities that HIV/AIDS is an urgent priority.

Anything less at this crucial moment in our long, troubling history with this disease will be disastrous. The epidemic in Black America is perched at a precipice. We will either find the political will to push it back from the edge, or we will tumble along with it into darkness.

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