What was the key concern on American’s minds in the run up to the election? It’s the economy stupid – the tag line of Clinton’s election campaign – seems as relevant now as it was when it was coined in the 90s. However, for many individuals who were HIV positive and those working in sexual health in the US concerns about the candidate’s stance in terms of HIV and AIDS was just as important if not more so than issues related to the economy. So how did Obama and Romney position themselves in the run up to the election in terms of HIV and AIDS and why might this have influenced the way Americans voted yesterday?
To his credit Obama has continued the PEPFAR – the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS – started by president Bush. Secretary of state, Hilary Clinton, has also been vocal on the topic, calling for an AIDS-free generation at the International AIDS conference, which was, incidentally, the first held in the States for 22 years (http://www.pepfar.gov/). In addition, the Democratic party platform (or manifesto here in the UK) mentioned HIV and AIDS 8 times in 32 pages whereas the Republican platform mentioned them 3 times in 54 pages and one of those times was in the context of abstinence-only education as the best way to combat AIDS in the US ( http://www.globalpost.com/dispatches/globalpost-blogs/global-pulse/presidential-campaign-and-hiv-aids) . With all this in mind it seems that HIV and AIDS are certainly high up the Democrat’s agenda and is a cause they are committed to. On the other hand, though, there is $1.5 billion of unspent money set aside for PEPEFAR that has been stuck in the pipeline for the last 18 months and Obama seems to be doing nothing to free-up this money. Obama has also said little about HIV and AIDS in his election campaign and overall could be described as having a pretty mixed record in the area because of this, especially compared with George W Bush.
In the run up to the election Romney remained silent on the issue. This seems to contrast with George W Bush who embraced AIDS activism and made it a key component of his government and, arguably, built up the best record on AIDS of any president. He enabled rapid HIV testing to become a reality through removing regulatory barriers and launched the hugely successful PEPFAR. Romney, on the other hand said nothing on AIDS funding in the run up to the election and it appeared that it wasn’t a priority for the Republican presidential candidate. He also failed to use the XIX AIDS conference as an opportunity to state his position in terms of HIV and AIDS, in–keeping with his general stance of keeping ‘stum’ on the issue. Romney also supported an amendment that would end healthcare for millions of American women, including HIV testing, prevention and contraception and if he had have got into power signing the bill would most likely have been on the agenda. That said, it is possible that if Romney was voted in he would have continued the work of Obama’s administration and would not have reduced the budget of the PEPEFAR as there is considerable support of the programme by many of those in the Republican party (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/charleslyons/making-a-campaign-commitm_b_1909506.html).
A good result?
Although Obama’s track record on HIV and AIDS cannot be described as exemplary it is definitely an issue that his government has prioritised. The Democrats have extended the HIV prevention and treatment work started by Bush and it is likely this will continue in his new term. Romney’s silence on the issue and lack of commitment in terms of PEPFAR has made Obama’s stance appear more progressive than it perhaps is and helped him gain some of the votes that gave him another 4 years in power last night.
What do you think? Were you supporting one candidate or the other last night? Was their position in terms of HIV and AIDS a factor in your support?
The GMI Partnership provides free sexual health services for HIV negative gay and bisexual men in London. This includes counselling, mentoring and sexual health advice at various locations across the city. For more information contact firstname.lastname@example.org