Markey Missing the Mark on Ending AIDS

Last month, Senator Edward J. Markey accompanied President Obama on his visit to Kenya and Ethiopiatwo countries that have suffered acutely from the AIDS epidemic for decades. Kenya, in fact, still faces the fourth largest HIV epidemic in the world today. But despite Markey’s proximity to the President and his role on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health, the Democrat from Massachusetts has failed to take an active role in reversing the steady flat-lining of global AIDS funding since 2011.

The waning U.S. political will to fund the fight against AIDS is particularly devastating because it comes at a moment when medicine and science ambitiously point towards ending the pandemic once and for all. Unlike during the onset of AIDS in the 1990s, today patients in developing countries like Kenya can access affordable treatment thanks to effective generics.

These advances paved the way to achieve an incredible milestone this month as the U.N. goal of placing 15 million people in poor countries on anti-AIDS medicine was achieved. Moreover, groundbreaking research has finally ended the “treatment versus prevention” dichotomy that long characterized discourse around AIDS by showing that placing people on treatment also reduces new infections by 99 percent. We now know unequivocally that treating people is the most effective prevention.

These advances have convinced experts in the field, like Dr. Anthony Fauci at the National Institutes of Health, that we can end AIDS within the decade using the tools and knowledge now readily available to us—if we restore the pace.

As the tide of the epidemic is finally turning, the Obama administration disappointingly continues its attempts to cut global AIDS funding—an amount already confined to only a small fraction of one percent of the federal budget. Last year, for the first time ever, this funding gap translated to steep declines in the number of new patients who could be enrolled on life-saving treatment, as well as declines in other core prevention interventions.

If we are to end AIDS in the next 10 years, scientific consensus points to expanding access to treatment for all people living with HIV—not allowing waiting lines of patients to grow longer. At this crucial juncture, our politicians must remain steadfastly committed to providing resources through mechanisms like the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) rather than turning their backs on poor patients and families in need of life-saving treatments.

As the funding crisis grows more serious, Markey stands uniquely positioned to help. The state of Massachusetts has long proven its role as a leader in public health—from the invaluable data collected in the Framingham Heart Study over three generations to instating state health care reform nearly five years before the Affordable Care Act made the same principles of insurance coverage a national standard.

As undergraduates who have volunteered in health clinics and as medical students walking through the threshold of patient rooms both in the U.S. and in front-line countries abroad, we are constantly reminded that every life matters, from South Boston to South Africa. Senator Markey can put us back on track to end one of the deadliest diseases of our time by advocating to restore the $300 million in deadly cuts made to PEPFAR since 2011 in the upcoming budget negotiations. The contributions America makes to the global fight against AIDS set a precedent that determines how aggressively other donor countries’ investments will be, rendering our commitment critical to the international agenda.

At a time of unprecedented optimism and scientific progress, we urge our senator to make a public stand for fully funding a commitment to an AIDS-free generation.


Shayla B. Partidge '18 lives in Leverett House. Darshali A. Vyas is a first-year medical student at Harvard Medical School. Katrina Ciraldo is a fourth-year medical student at Boston University. Vyas and Ciraldo are affiliated with the American Medical Students Association's AIDS Advocacy Network.

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