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Activists Arrested at Massive NYC Protest Demanding Obama Fulfill Global AIDS Promises

May 13, 2010

Housing Works' Johnny Guaylupo and ACT UP Philadelphia's Jose de Marco after being arrested.

Housing Works' Johnny Guaylupo and ACT UP Philadelphia's Jose de Marco after being arrested.

Eight activists were arrested last night after lying down in Madison Avenue in protest of President Barack Obama's broken promises on global AIDS funding. The demonstration coincided with Obama's presence at a $15,000-a-head fundraiser for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee at the St. Regis Hotel in New York.

In addition to those arrested, 500 protesters from around the world chanted and marched holding signs reading "No More AIDS Lies! Treat People Now!" and carrying body bags.

"While they are inside sipping champagne and caviar, Obama's broken promises for global AIDS funding mean people will die because they cannot afford a 'cocktail' of HIV/AIDS medication," said ACT UP Philadelphia member Henry Bennett. "Obama gave them hope, then he took it away."

Some of the 500 protesters demanding Obama commit $50 billion to fight AIDS globally.

Some of the 500 protesters demanding Obama commit $50 billion to fight AIDS globally.

On the campaign trail, candidate Obama pledged to provide at least $50 billion by 2013 for the global fight against HIV/AIDS and to "at least double the number of HIV-positive people on treatment."

But, as The New York Times reported, Obama's commitments to fighting AIDS have not even kept pace with inflation, let alone increased to the level he promised. Flat-funding for the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) means that people who were tested for HIV under U.S.-sponsored programs and promised treatment when they got sick are now being turned away. Although $50 billion was approved for five years, both of the budgets Obama submitted have flat-funded treatment.


This Is a Tragedy

This protest was viewed as urgent by AIDS activists, who see the Obama administration back-tracking on promises to fight global AIDS, just when the world is making real progress against the epidemic. One of the largest AIDS protests in recent memory, last night's demonstration brought out longtime activists who are no longer protest regulars, including ACT Up founder Larry Kramer and South Africa's Treatment Action Campaign's Zackie Achmat.

"I'm here because this is a tragedy," Achmat said at the rally that preceded the arrests. "When he was campaigning, President Obama met with us. He learned that PEPFAR saves lives. But did he come just to get his picture taken or to listen to us?

See Achmat's speech:

According to Christine Campbell, vice president for national advocacy and organizing at Housing Works, "Obama's lack of commitment to fight AIDS globally is exemplified by the administration's inaction in Haiti -- the U.S. has not yet designated any supplemental money to rebuild Haiti's network of AIDS services that were wiped out in the January 12 earthquake. Tens of thousands of Haitians could die unnecessarily if we don't act quickly."

Obama Policy "Dangerous to Public Health"

A leaked memo from the U.S. government revealed that doctors in Uganda are being instructed to enroll no new patients in treatment, and face choices between giving their dwindling supplies to young mothers or children. The memo, from October 29, 2009, states that in 2010 and 2011, each partner should "expect to have a flat line budget for ARV procurement that should but be exceeded without discussion and written approval from their funding agencies." This is in contrast to State department official Ann Gavaghan telling advocates in January that "We are continuing to scale up treatment."

"Uganda is the canary in the coal mine," said Asia Russell, director of international policy for Health GAP, who recently returned from a month in Uganda, and said there are similar scale-backs being reported in Nigeria and Mozambique. "These aren't anecdotes. These are documented and are occurring under the reign of Goosby and Obama and Hilary Clinton." Russell was one of the eight protesters arrested

Russell criticized the Obama administration's global health strategy -- led by Ezekiel Emanuel, brother of Rahm -- that states the U.S. government will get a bigger bang for its buck by treating childhood diseases and keeping mothers alive rather than fighting global AIDS. Russell said this "either/or" dichotomy is "a radical economic position that was in vogue 11 or 12 years ago. It's shocking to see it come back into fashion in this White House."

"Sound evidence doesn't pit diarrheal diseases in children against antiretroviral treatment, which is what Zeke Emanuel is doing," Russell said. "It's a dangerous approach to public health. There's exciting data to expanded community coverage of antiretroviral treatment, but the Administration is disregarding very real impact.It makes me sad it, but they're more focused on what the bean counters say than the promises the Administration has made."

The action was sponsored by ACT UP Philadelphia, ACT UP/NY, Africa Action, African Services Committee, American Medical Student Association, Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Project, Health GAP, Housing Works, MCCNY Charities, MCC Global Justice Ministries, NYC AIDS Housing Network (NYCAHN), Philadelphia Global AIDS Watchdogs, Proyecto Sol Filadelphia, and VOCAL-NY Users' Union.

Photos by Kaytee Riek/Health GAP. See more photos at

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This article was provided by Housing Works. It is a part of the publication Housing Works AIDS Issues Update. Visit Housing Works' website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.
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Reader Comments:

Comment by: Juliana (Uganda) Sat., Aug. 7, 2010 at 9:13 am EDT
I think one other thing we should also keep in mind is that our civil society has to do a lot of advocacy to ensure that the government prioritizes health. I acknowledge the Ugandan govt has done some work to fight the disease but it is still wanting. Health is not a priority in our country and that's why we have to cry to donor who we don not control to give us funds to meet our health needs. I think time we put our house in order and prioritized health and education while we are it we can ask donors for help. With our half of our budget funding armies surely we can put all the blame on donors or Obama! We are poor yes but we are not using our resources well let alone the resources that are given to us by the donors. This is the only way we shall sustain our health systems and stop living off other people. I think its all up to us and not the American government. Why is ti that we can afford to tell them to keep off our business when we are making irrational decision but then want their money to increasingly flow with out them asking any questions or making demands. I am Ugandan been affected by the disease in may ways and work with HIV/AIDS but i think we need to rethink our strategy and hold our government accountable.
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Comment by: Namusoke Asia (Uganda) Wed., May. 26, 2010 at 2:16 am EDT
Iam an adherence officer-paediatric working in an institution that had been stopped from recruiting new adult clients. The big challenge is that caretakers of children are not on treatment yet we want them to adhere to their drugs. Many times these children miss drugs and clinic appointments because the caretaker is sick.This means that giving drugs to children without their caretakers compromises adherence.

When obama policy was put in action, most caretakers that had not started ART were turned away and this has impacted on the adherence levels .

I would to inform Mr Obama that TREAT for life meant that drugs will be available as long as somebody is alive.

Sometimes i wonder why the so called American people decided to give Africans free drugs ?

Thank you.
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Comment by: Priscilla (Uganda) Tue., May. 25, 2010 at 4:17 am EDT
Its really a pity,am a child counselor, and some times we get pregnant mothers but we can't start them on treatment, and its also a challenge to give treatment to a child when his or her mother can not get treatment, some parents are likely to share medicine with their children, and we are going to get more people getting resistance, when you came to Uganda to offer treatment, you termed it as TREAT FOR LIFE. does Obama know that? that its for life? you cant just stop it? we are very disappointed, why did you start them on treatment if you could not mentain it? people are already dying, they come when they are very sick but we send them away because we cant enroll any more, its really painful, something should be done, obama we celebrated when he won the elections, but we are regretting now.
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