WASHINGTON – “America must not be a passive onlooker as AIDS turns entire African nations into graveyards.” So said actor Danny Glover, speaking to a “Day of Hope” rally of 1,000 protesters on the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol April 10. The demonstrators, members of New York and Philadelphia ACT UP, Health Gap, Jubilee USA Network and other groups fighting the HIV/AIDS scourge came on buses from New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and other cities to demand that Congress approve a bill by Reps. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and Jim Leech (R-Iowa) that would provide $750 million immediately and $2.5 billion next year to the U.N. Global AIDS Fund.

Protesters held placards that proclaimed “Money for AIDS Care, not for debt” and “100 percent debt cancellation.” These signs referred to the foreign debts of developing nations, now well over $1 trillion, that most economists agree are unpayable. Many impoverished third world nations pay more for debt service than their entire public health and education budgets combined.

Glover thanked the crowd, a majority of them African Americans. “You believe the day of reckoning is now,” the film star said. “You understand the relationship between HIV/AIDS in Africa and HIV/AIDS in the under-served communities of America. The world is facing the worst health crisis in history. Twenty million have already died of AIDS. Forty million around the world are living with AIDS.”

He pointed out that with anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs, AIDS has become a manageable disease, “but there are 36 million people living on the other side of the divide who are dying needlessly” because they cannot afford the daily “cocktail” of ARV drugs. Profiteering by pharmaceutical monopolies is a major cause of the crisis.

“When people have treatment available, it is an incentive to get tested and the infection rate drops dramatically,” Glover said. “We cannot be neutral. We are demanding that there be $750 million allocated immediately, a mere pittance … and an additional $2.5 billion next year, still a pittance.”

Lee and Leech both appeared to urge a grassroots lobby effort to win enactment of their bill. “We know how to treat these diseases,” Lee said. “We must fight death and diseases with the same intensity that we fight terrorism.”

Asia Russell, an organizer of the rally and a leader of Philadelphia ACT UP charged that the U.S. “is refusing to spend the million dollars a day it would take to extend the lives of millions of people in Africa. People should not be sentenced to die because they are poor.”

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