Students Push Scott Brown on AIDS Funding

Representatives of the Harvard Global Health and AIDS Coalition gathered outside of U.S. Senator Scott Brown’s Office on Monday to urge the Republican to endorse an effort to block proposed funding cuts to the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.

Dressed in Super Man-themed attire and wielding signs, a dozen protesters urged Brown to “be our hero” and sign a “Dear Colleague” letter, encouraging fellow senators to preserve funding levels for PEPFAR. The letter has garnered some support from Democrats, but Brown would be the first Republican to formally back the initiative.

The letter from GHAC is part of a larger effort to preserve PEPFAR funding since President Obama proposed $562.9 million in cuts to the program earlier this year. PEPFAR provides funding for HIV/AIDS prevention and relief and is part of the President’s Global Health Initiative started by George W. Bush, which pledged $15 billion to fight HIV/AIDS around the world over five years.

The proposed cuts would be the first in the program’s relatively brief history and would break Obama’s campaign promise to increase funding for the initiative during his presidency.

“We really don’t believe in the statement that we shouldn’t be funding AIDS research and relief abroad,” Cara S. Guenther ’13 said.

The GHAC representatives have met with various Massachusetts politicians in the past, including Democratic Senator John Kerry, but after a series of meetings they were still unable to secure support. Isabel R. Ostrer ’14, one of the event’s organizers, said that GHAC members were optimistic after several meeting with Brown’s aides.

The group was told Brown was not available and instead met briefly with a member of the senator’s staff. They presented the staffer with a letter to Brown, as well as a Super Man cape signed by Massachusetts voters in support of the action.

“Scott Brown likes to think of himself as a maverick,” said Lily H. Ostrer ’14. “He prides himself on being independent of all the entrenched issues in Washington....This is an issue in which Scott Brown can kind of be a contrarian and stand up for this issue.”

Ostrer said Brown has been a strong supporter of human rights issues in the past, and it makes sense that he would support sustained PEPFAR funding.

The Senate will begin putting together its budget for the next fiscal year in the coming weeks, leaving a critical window for action against the proposed cuts, protesters said.

“There needs to be a demonstration of support in order for the appropriate committee to restore funding,” Ostrer said. The group plans to follow up with Brown on Wednesday and reevaluate if he does not agree to take action.

—Staff writer Nicholas P. Fandos can be reached at nicholasfandos@college.harvard.edu.

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