Students Challenge Government on AIDS at Conference

Members of the Global Health & AIDS Coalition make their voices heard

Harvard students, wearing shirts and holding signs saying “HIV POSITIVE”, demonstrated at a high-profile global health conference in Boston Friday, calling on the Obama administration to fulfill its pledge to sharply increase funding for AIDS programs.

During a break, members of the Harvard College Global Health & AIDS Coalition spoke with Ambassador Eric P. Goosby, coordinator of U.S. international HIV/AIDS efforts, asking for the administration to spend $50 billion over five years for the fight against AIDS, as Obama promised during his campaign.

So far, the government has steered less than $6 billion into AIDS programs, Goosby said at the conference.

The Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Global Health’s Inaugural Symposium brought together leaders in global health and in government to talk about the fight against AIDS.

When a panel that included Senator John F. Kerry, Goosby, and Harvard Professor of Global Health and Social Medicine Paul E. Farmer, opened the floor to questions, Krishna M. Prabhu ’11 asked Goosby to publicly call on the president to fully-fund the fight against AIDS.

While Prabhu spoke, approximately 30 coalition members stood in the front row and unfurled a banner saying, “Demand Obama Keep His Promise.”

Prahbu said that the members represented those who had died worldwide of HIV/AIDS during the morning’s four hours of speeches.

The actual number would have been about 1,000, according to data from the World Health Organization.

Goosby said the president is committed to fighting AIDS, but the economic climate makes that difficult.

“I will commit to you to continue to be in dialogue with leadership,” Goosby said.

“But it is the president’s decision as to how he is able to find resources and allocate those resources”

When coalition members Marguerite Thorp ’11 and Scott T. Gregg ’12 spoke with Goosby during a break, he said that all other government programs are being cut, and that more lives are being saved than ever before.

Thorp said she was disappointed that Goosby did not agree to call upon the president to increase funding.

She said she believes economic conditions should not affect the United States’ monetary commitment to AIDS.

“When the economy turns downward, AIDS doesn’t take a vacation,” Thorp said.

“The poorest of the poor are suffering the most ... if we scale up [aid efforts] now, we could end the epidemic by 2050.”

Kerry, a Democrat, praised the presence and activism of the coalition, saying that it was vital for citizens to keep the government accountable.

With Republicans set to take over the House in January, he said pressure from citizens for Congress to do the right thing was necessary.

He urged the students to protest before groups that opposed AIDS funding.

However, in an interview Thorp responded to that statement, saying that the Democrats are still in power and are not doing enough.

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