What Will It Take for Republicans to Care About HIV/AIDS?

At the GOP Debate, Mike Huckabee Wants to Cure Diseases -- But Apparently Not HIV/AIDS

Josh Kruger
Josh Kruger

It's to be expected that members of the Republican Party often wish to return the U.S. to a quainter, simpler time in history that never quite existed in reality. Likewise, they wish to return our nation to a very real time when undesirables knew their place in the social hierarchy.

As a consequence, the proverbial Republican kitchen table doesn't always have seats for us HIV-positive folks, queer folks or others.

Such was the case this week when Mike Huckabee took the stage at the second GOP presidential debate and proffered a modest proposal to cure what ails a sick nation.

In the second half of the CNN-aired argle-bargle, Huckabee declared that America is a country of big ideas and big dreams. In fact, Huckabee's declarations are so visionary that he waxed poetic about why the next president should focus the nation's private and public resources on ending diseases.

The former Arkansas governor, gee-tar player extraordinaire and Holocaust-invoker, presented a grand, Kennedyesque vision of health care in America.

If the United States is indeed the greatest country on Earth, able to accomplish herculean tasks such as putting a man on the moon, he asked, why can't the country cure diabetes, cancer or heart disease?

It's a good question. Yet, I was puzzled that he felt no need to mention HIV/AIDS, which affects over one-million Americans.

To be fair, those other three big diseases are, indeed, scourges on the American health landscape. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say that diabetes affects nearly 30-million people. That's nearly 10% of the entire population.

And the American Cancer Society estimates that in 2015 alone about 1.6 million Americans will be diagnosed with new cancer infections, and over half-a-million people will die from cancer. In addition, there are millions of cancer survivors still alive, including my own mother.

Many cancer survivors regularly spend a few spare moments wondering if their personal battles against the disease will continue. It's terrible to always be wondering if today is the day you'll get sick again.

I'd say most of us living with HIV can likely relate to that.

Heart disease, of course, is the number-one killer for most ethnicities in America, including whites, Latinos, and blacks. According to the CDC, each year in the U.S. over 700,000 people have heart attacks and over 600,000 people die of heart-related ailments.

In other words, diabetes, cancer and heart disease deserve their notorious superlatives.

Still, I found it curious that when talking about the need for cures, Huckabee mentioned only those diseases and said nothing about HIV/AIDS. While I've often personally viewed cure talk as more of a dream than a reality, Huckabee was sharing just that: dreams. In that context, the fact that he said not one single word about HIV/AIDS is telling to me.

It seems that, after an aberrational blip involving President George W. Bush's laudable expansion of HIV/AIDS funding to other countries, the Republican Party is back to its tiresome strategy of burying its head in the sand when it comes to the virus. This explains why Indiana, a state overseen by a conservative governor and legislature, had to deal with a recent HIV outbreak. Only once a few dozen people acquired the virus did the state, and its conservative leadership, start rethinking its ban on needle exchange programs.

Once again, federal block grant funding for HIV/AIDS treatment is in legislative limbo, relying on arcane budget rules for sustenance. That's now a regular occurrence alongside football season.

Yet, when the current Republican candidates for president were asked about health care, they all talked in platitudes devoid of any substance. Including a surreal exchange between Ben Carson, a neurosurgeon, and Donald Trump, a buffoon, about whether or not vaccines cause autism, the discussions on health care had no real value. And, when the need for disease cures came up, HIV wasn't mentioned once.

That's a shame; though ignoring or playing politics with HIV treatment is a sound strategy -- if your goal is to increase HIV infections.

Josh Kruger is an award-winning writer and commentator in Philadelphia. His work often focuses on HIV/AIDS, cultural stigmas and social problems. You can follow him on Twitter @jawshkruger.