Senators Show Bipartisan Support for U.S. Engagement on HIV/AIDS
Senior Associate, Global Health Policy Center
Senators John Kerry and Lindsey Graham delivered strong messages of bipartisan political support for U.S. engagement on global AIDS in Monday’s plenary session of AIDS 2012. The participation of this senior Senate Democrat and Republican testified to the crucial bipartisan support that has characterized the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, PEPFAR, since its inception.
Senator Kerry called on the U.S. to rise to the “clear and compelling” challenge of staying the course and investing the necessary resources to realize “the tremendous possibility” of reversing and ultimately eradicating HIV/AIDS. In addition to sustained U.S. financial commitment, he reminded the audience that sound policy is also important, noting the detrimental efforts to criminalize homosexuality, obstruct programs to address injecting drug users, and cling to policies that fuel stigma and discrimination. Kerry has long been a champion for the AIDS response, and told the audience that his involvement as the co-chair of the CSIS HIV/AIDS Task Force in 2002, together with Senator Bill Frist, helped lay the groundwork for the two senators to sponsor the legislation that created PEPFAR.
Senator Lindsey Graham emphasized the tremendous progress that has been made in fighting HIV/AIDS and the bipartisan vision that underpins PEPFAR. He noted the importance for American taxpayers to now see affected countries taking ownership of their AIDS programs and made clear that we have to continue to show them that their money is being well spent. Cautioning that we can’t “rest on our laurels,” he then focused on what he called “the bad news” -- that a vaccine for HIV is currently not in sight and that the regulatory side of research is too cumbersome. He called for a “Manhattan project”-type approach to finding a vaccine, and for concerted efforts to bring down the cost of treatment, both of which will have immeasurable rewards to individuals and countries. “Let it be said,” he concluded, “that in the early part of the 21st century, those who had the ability to help and make a difference stepped up to the plate and hit it out of the park.”
At this time of economic austerity and uncertainly about future funding for global health programs, these two senators presented a welcome common front, signaling that bipartisan action is possible and that strong leadership will be critical to continuing support for U.S. engagement.