May 13, 2010
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.
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 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."
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 kayteeriek.com