The Time Is Now


In all the planning
leading up to World AIDS Day (December 1st) this year, I’ve
noticed a certain positive, proactive feeling among all the people I’ve
been working with. It feels like hope. And I think I know why. 

The theme for this
year’s World AIDS Day is "leadership," which I find fitting. First,
we have experienced a change of leadership in Washington that I think
has given those of us in the reproductive health community a reason
to hope. Second, this change in leadership also gives us a new reason
to adopt the mantel of leadership ourselves as we fight HIV and AIDS
worldwide.   

For the last eight
years, we have lived in an environment where our sexual lives were treated
as a political issue, rather than as an issue of health and wellness. 
This is not only ridiculous, it hinders efforts to encourage all people
to understand their sexuality, their behaviors and the risks they are
taking. Globally, young people, ages 15-24, make up nearly half of
all new HIV infections. It’s time to change the political game where
ideology determines policy rather than science. President-elect Obama
has promised to remove harmful obstacles that hinder science-based HIV
prevention efforts. He has committed to enact policies that give people
the tools they need to protect themselves and their partners from HIV
infection, including supporting comprehensive sex education both here
and abroad. 

The reauthorization
of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) this past
summer presents some major obstacles for President-elect Obama. The
current plan still includes problematic restrictions such mandating
that "any country with a generalized epidemic uses more than 50 percent
of its PEPFAR funding for prevention against sexual transmission to
promote anything other than abstaining from sex or being faithful, it
must be justified to the Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator who then
has to justify it to Congress." While a new Administration has the
potential to implement these provisions in a positive way through the
policy’s guidance, the U.S. must also ensure that funded countries
know they have more freedom to develop strategies that specifically
address the HIV epidemic among their citizens.  I am looking to
this new administration to work with the global health community to
do just that. 

The change in our government
has brought all of us in the reproductive and sexual health community
renewed hope. We have been on the defensive for so long, forced to make
do with the ineffective tools we were given to fight a pandemic, that
we are almost desperate for changes. Now, with new leadership in the
United States, we have renewed motivation as we to take leadership in
our communities and in the policy arena.  

But, with this hope
comes responsibility.  We no longer have a non-receptive administration
as an excuse to not get things done.   It is no longer acceptable
(was it ever?) to play it safe for fear of getting attacked on issues
such as access to condoms or needle exchange. We cannot afford to think
small when working on U.S. policy because of a bad political climate.  

Instead, for World
AIDS Day this year, I see people thinking big and taking the lead.
I see plans for an international "blog-a-thon" taking shape because everyone is willing
to commit and bring others on board. At George Washington University
where I attend school, I see a larger coalition of activists putting
together a full week of programming to raise awareness around the disease. 

So – my question
for you – – how will you take the lead next Monday and in the future
in fighting the global HIV pandemic? 

For more information or to participate
in the blog-a-thon hosted by Advocates for Youth from December 1-7,
2008, go to:     www.AmplifyYourVoice.org/WorldAIDSDay

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