For almost three years, I have been writing with disdain about the ineffective and counterproductive international and domestic HIV and AIDS policies adopted by the US government. However, with yet another World AIDS Day on the horizon, my message for this year is full of hope.
Yes, hope, partially due to my faith that a new Obama Administration will mean positive changes in the issues that I care about, but mostly because, after eight years of bad policies, hope is all I have left.
Over the years I have advocated for increased funding for international family planning, desperately needed to ease the burden of maternal and infant mortality. I have fought for the repeal of the anti-prostitution loyalty oath, a policy that forces U.S. and country health groups receiving U.S. funding to denounce prostitution as a condition for receiving those funds, even when their mission is to work on HIV prevention among sex workers. I have battled Congress to eliminate the onerous 33 percent earmark in the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) that required countries to use one-third of their prevention funds for abstinence-until-marriage programs. And, most recently, I have worked to abolish the HIV travel ban that prevents people living with HIV from traveling to the U.S.
The past two years showed minor shifting in these onerous policies. International family planning received a small increase, the 33 percent funding requirement for abstinence-until-marriage was loosened (but only slightly), and the statutory HIV travel ban was removed under during the PEPFAR’s reauthorization.
However, the anti-prostitution loyalty oath still stands; the new "abstinence – be faithful" funding requirements still make it difficult for countries to use their prevention dollars in a comprehensive prevention strategy; and the HIV travel ban has not been completely repealed by the Department of Health and Human Services.
So, as this year’s World AIDS Day comes and goes, I hope that the new inhabitants of the White House and the 111th Congress will expand the small victories into positive policies that will make a difference. I hope that some day in the near future, every individual will have access to all information and resources they need to make healthy choices – - regardless of their lifestyle choices, sexual orientation, or gender identity. I hope that some day, science will dictate policy not ideology. I hope that some day soon no one will travel restrictions to the United States based on their HIV status. And I sure do hope that one of these days when this ban is lifted the United States will become a host country to the International AIDS Conference.