December 1st, 2011, marks the thirtieth anniversary of World AIDS Day. In honor of this hallmark, Stephen Lewis, co-founder and co-director of AIDS Free World, an NGO that works to promote a more effective global response to HIV/AIDS, spoke at the Global Health Seminar on Monday, November 28th. However, the tone of his presentation was far from laudatory. Lewis utilized the forum to focus on the recent setback in fighting the HIV/AIDS pandemic, with the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria forced to cut funding for new programs due to lack of donor support.
Reading from a text he prepared for World AIDS Day, Lewis launched a strong criticism against donors who reneged on their pledges to the Global Fund. Emphasizing the Global Fund’s position as “the most important and effective financial facility addressing the pandemic of AIDS,” Lewis castigated the donors’ decision to cut funding. “It’s not just the fact that people will die. It’s the fact that those who have made the decision know that people will die,” he stated.
He further called for rerouting of funds to support the Global Fund. Referencing the amount of money spent on recent conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya, and also enumerating the profits of various multinational corporations. “Why is war the only surefire call on the public purse?” Lewis asked. He noted the vast amounts of money available for pursuits other than global public health and the ability to suddenly find money to assist with disaster relief, like hurricanes and tsunamis.
Lewis’s presentation was a sobering examination of the international community’s lack of commitment to the HIV/AIDS pandemic. On the thirtieth anniversary of World AIDS Day, the pandemic still looms, with millions of new infections occurring each year. During a time when war and stimulus packages can summon up large amounts of public money, HIV/AIDS still remains low on the priority list of the international community. Lewis encouraged the audience to contact their representatives in Congress, and to have a voice in ensuring that HIV/AIDS is not shifted to the bottom of the priority list.
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