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Last week, more than 100 people gathered on Boston Common to commemorate World AIDS Day 2010. Prominent among the event’s organizers and attendees were representatives from several Harvard student organizations. We are particularly proud of Harvard students’ involvement in national and international efforts to eradicate AIDS, and we commend the initiative demonstrated by our fellow students as they attempt to hold our leaders accountable for the promises they made during the previous election cycle. Even if their efforts amount to nothing, these students at least are sending an important message about the relevance of youth activism in modern politics.
These campus activists’ engagement in global health policy is particularly admirable when one considers the apathy and political disengagement that unfortunately has become all-too-pervasive in the past two years. Although young voters played a key role in the election of President Obama, recent data suggest that this same demographic was decidedly apathetic in the 2010 election cycle. Only 20 percent of eligible voters under the age of 30 cast ballots a month ago, compared to a record-high 51 percent in November 2008. Given this level of youth disengagement, the new generation of AIDS activists’ passion for justice is truly heartening.
Additionally, it is very exciting to see a diverse coalition of student groups coming together to work on this initiative, especially given how difficult it can be for student groups to collaborate on campus. Among the groups represented at the rally on the Common were the Harvard African Student Association, the Harvard College Global Health and AIDS Coalition, the Black Students Association, the Chinese Students Association, Harvard Queer Students and Allies, and several campus religious groups. This sort of campus unity will be especially critical for continued advocacy efforts.
While we laud these student activists’ focus on increasing U.S. foreign aid for AIDS prevention and treatment through the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, we also want to call attention to the domestic side of AIDS activism. In 2006, 31 percent of new AIDS transmissions in the United States were via heterosexual contact—AIDS is not a problem only among high-risk groups like men who have sex with men and intravenous drug users. As such, it is imperative that public health officials and agencies in the United States emphasize safe sex practices among all Americans, regardless of sexual orientation.
Finally, from a policy standpoint, we wholeheartedly agree with the claims made by the Harvard organizers of World AIDS Day 2010. The Obama administration must follow through on its campaign promises to aggressively combat the spread of AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa. President Obama’s $300 million funding requests to Congress look particularly pitiful in light of the potentially massive costs of extending the Bush tax cuts, the $84 billion requested by Senate Republicans for the modernization of our nuclear arsenal, and the simple fact that the requested amount would do little more than adjust for inflation in the current AIDS budget. It is high time the White House follow through on its lofty rhetoric concerning global AIDS policy, and we applaud the Harvard students and affiliates who have already donated so much of their time and energy to such a worthwhile cause.
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