Last night’s debate was full of memorable moments, and it left me reeling not just from what was said—but from what wasn’t. The conversation featured a total lack of substantive discussion about AIDS—yet again—and against the backdrop of distraction after distraction, there is a real risk that it remains unaddressed this debate season altogether.
The fact is, the next president of the United States has a historic opportunity to champion the end of AIDS in their first term. But amidst talk of so many policies that would disproportionately affect women, immigrants, communities of color, and the LGBT community in the United States, it’s easy to overlook the implications of the next administration on programs that serve these same communities around the world.
Of the 36.7 million people living with HIV worldwide today, 20 million still lack access to life-saving medicines and an estimated 1.1 million people will die from AIDS-related illness this year alone. According to UNAIDS, the next four years will determine whether we can end the AIDS pandemic as a global health threat by 2030.
By rapidly scaling up multilateral programs such as the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the next president could nearly double the number of people accessing antiretroviral therapy from 17 million people to 30 million people by 2020, and ultimately put the world on track to end the AIDS pandemic by 2030.
The need is urgent, so it should have come as no surprise to the candidates when activists demanded a plan.
Earlier this year, Secretary Clinton sat down with us and laid out a platform on HIV and AIDS. While the platform is missing specific treatment and funding targets we’d like to see, it provides a tool for advocacy that can be used both before the election as we encourage a bolder response and after the election to hold her accountable should she be elected president.
Donald Trump, on the other hand, has not responded to activists’ meeting requests or issued a policy statement on HIV. So with just weeks until the election, we are left to wonder what his platform to address the global HIV epidemic would look like given his other proposals on healthcare and foreign relations, which include a complete repeal of the Affordable Care Act, a ban on muslims entering the U.S., and a wall along the Mexican border.
While some politicians play a zero-sum game in which there’s not enough for Americans, we as activists must double down and pressure the next president to go a step further and scale up funding to provide treatment for the 7.7 million people in PEPFAR-recipient countries. An AIDS-free generation is within reach if we simply rise to the challenge.
It starts with recognizing the health disparities that exist across racial and socioeconomic lines both within and between countries and making strides to reform the systems that perpetuate them. The U.S. is the already the largest funder of the global HIV response, accounting for 66.4% of the total governmental donations. By increasing the annual U.S. contribution to global HIV programs by $2 billion between now and 2020, the next president could shepherd the end of AIDS. Without this commitment, however, the strides made in the global HIV response would not just plateau, but reverse, threatening millions of lives and decades of progress.
As Americans evaluate the candidates’ debate performances, it’s critical that they look beyond the theater and see the potential for the next president to either reverse decades of progress made in global health or to provide real leadership and lead us to an AIDS-free generation.
Add this to the list of reasons why the stakes are so high on November 8th.
Health Global Access Project, Inc. is a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit organization and therefore does not endorse any political candidate.