Protesters shouted and blew whistles when Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson attempted to defend George W. Bush’s record on combatting the AIDS scourge, during the 14th International AIDS conference in Barcelona, Spain, July 9.

“Let’s hear about morality, Thompson,” shouted one protester. “People are dying because they don’t have access to medications.”

More than 20,000 people gathered for activities ranging from scientific reports on medical research to a huge street march demanding that the U.S. and other wealthy nations stop stalling and provide the funds necessary to combat the deadly scourge that has killed an estimated 22 million people. Former Presidents Bill Clinton of the United States and Nelson Mandela of South Africa walked onto the stage together and promised to increase their personal efforts to fight the disease.

Graca Machel of South Africa, in a speech to a plenary session July 11, called on the women of the world to fight the HIV/AIDS pandemic. She blasted pharmaceutical companies that promise lower prices for medications yet refuse to provide patents for the production of low cost generic versions of the life-extending anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs. “How many times will we come to these conferences and watch people makes promises which they go home and forget?” she demanded. “Where are the financial resources promised by the rich nations?”

Eric Payne, government affairs director of Washington-based AIDS Action, told the World, “The Barcelona conference provided some much-needed rejuvenation for the HIV/AIDS community.” The conference, he said, showed that there is universal recognition that the HIV/AIDS pandemic is getting worse. “Clearly, we must do more. The time is now for real leadership. We challenge President Bush and other leaders to step up to the plate.”

Reps. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and Jim Leech (R-Iowa) have co-sponsored a bill to provide money for the Global Fund to Fight HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria – $750 million immediately and another $2 billion in the following fiscal year. But the Bush administration and ultra-rightists in the House have blocked the measure.

To date, the U.S. has provided only $300 million to the Global Fund. On April 25, the Fund announced its first round of grants, awarding a total of $378 million over two years to 40 programs in 31 countries.

Yet even here in the U.S., poor and unemployed AIDS victims are at risk of losing access to the daily ARV cocktail that keeps HIV-positive people healthy. Funding for the AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP) hasn’t kept up with the program’s growing enrollment and the increasing cost of the ARV cocktail.

Congress appropriated $639 million for ADAP, an increase of only $50 million, even though ADAP advocates warned that an additional $131 million was needed to provide the same level of coverage.

Meanwhile, states are required to provide funds for the administration of the ADAP drugs, and many states facing fiscal crisis are now cutting back. Ten states have even closed enrollment to new clients.

The author can be reached at greenerpastures21212@yahoo.com

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