As the one-year countdown to the 2008 presidential election begins this November, more than 100 U.S. AIDS service organizations have united to demand that all candidates offer a national plan for ending the epidemic. The groups’ “A Call to Action” (nationalaidsstrategy.org), which any person or organization can sign online, insists that the next president focus on: improving prevention and treatment outcomes through evidence-based programming; setting goals with annual reporting and monitoring; providing prevention counseling and treatment for people of all colors and sexual orientations; adressing social factors that increase HIV risk; and increasing funding for prevention and treatment research, among other goals. “We need a plan, not a patchwork,” says Julie Davids, executive director of Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Project (CHAMP), which is participating in the call to action. “We need to move from a response to AIDS that is often bureaucratic to one that is evidence-based and outcomes-oriented; a response that reaches everyone at risk of infection or needing care.”
The petition, launched September 17, follows a deafening silence about HIV and AIDS issues in initial candidate debates and public forums. As POZ went to press, only one presidential hopeful had responded to the call to action: former U.S. Senator John Edwards of North Carolina, who in Congress served a region particularly hard-hit by the epidemic. On September 24, at the Families USA/Kaiser Family Foundation Health Care Forum, Edwards revealed a policy paper that urged a “comprehensive strategy to combat AIDS.” Mirroring many of the AIDS groups’ demands, the document made special mention of fighting the virus in Latino and African-American communities, where, as the AIDS Action Council notes, “the harm is now the greatest.” Rebecca Haag, executive director of AIDS Action Council, says, “We welcome Senator Edwards’ call for a national strategy. He is definitely listening to the many organizations, groups and individuals that understand the need for a committed public health approach to HIV.” Which isn’t to say she or AIDS Action officially endorses Edwards—yet. They await responses from Clinton, Obama, Giuliani, McCain, Romney and other presidential hopefuls. To encourage other candidates to pledge to fight AIDS, visit the website and add your voice to the call.