Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Ifill's Question on AIDS

Ok, I know I'm supposed to be working on a presentation, but I just had to take time out to listen to the debate between Vice President Dick Cheney and Senator John Edwards. I imagine that we are all surprised (and grateful) that the moderator, Gwen Ifill, addressed them with a question about AIDS in the U.S.

Here's her question:

IFILL: I will talk to you about health care, Mr. Vice President. You have two minutes. But in particular, I want to talk to you about AIDS, and not about AIDS in China or Africa, but AIDS right here in this country, where black women between the ages of 25 and 44 are 13 times more likely to die of the disease than their counterparts.

What should the government's role be in helping to end the growth of this epidemic?

Here's Vice President Cheney's response:

CHENEY: Well, this is a great tragedy, Gwen, when you think about the enormous cost here in the United States and around the world of the AIDS epidemic--pandemic, really. Millions of lives lost, millions more infected and facing a very bleak future.

In some parts of the world, we've got the entire, sort of, productive generation has been eliminated as a result of AIDS, all except for old folks and kids--nobody to do the basic work that runs an economy.

The president has been deeply concerned about it. He has moved and proposed and gotten through the Congress authorization for $15 billion to help in the international effort, to be targeted in those places where we need to do everything we can, through a combination of education as well as providing the kinds of medicines that will help people control the infection.

Here in the United States, we've made significant progress. I have not heard those numbers with respect to African- American women. I was not aware that it was--that they're in epidemic there, because we have made progress in terms of the overall rate of AIDS infection, and I think primarily through a combination of education and public awareness as well as the development, as a result of research, of drugs that allow people to live longer lives even though they are infected--obviously we need to do more of that.

Here's Senator Edwards' response:

EDWARDS: Well, first, with respect to what's happening in Africa and Russia and in other places around the world, the vice president spoke about the $15 billion for AIDS. John Kerry and I believe that needs to be doubled.

And I might add, on the first year of their commitment, they came up significantly short of what they had promised.

And we probably won't get a chance to talk about Africa. Let me just say a couple of things.

The AIDS epidemic in Africa, which is killing millions and millions of people and is a frightening thing not just for the people of Africa but also for the rest of the world, that, combined with the genocide that we're now seeing in Sudan, are two huge moral issues for the United States of America, which John Kerry spoke about eloquently last Thursday night.

Here at home we need to do much more. And the vice president spoke about doing research, making sure we have the drugs available, making sure that we do everything possible to have prevention. But it's a bigger question than that.

You know, we have 5 million Americans who've lost their health care coverage in the last four years; 45 million Americans without health care coverage. We have children who don't have health care coverage.

If kids and adults don't have access to preventative care, if they're not getting the health care that they need day after day after day, the possibility of not only developing AIDS and having a problem--having a problem--a life-threatening problem, but the problem of developing other life-threatening diseases is there every day of their lives.

Here's some reactions from the (corporate) blogosphere. First, Paul Begala, at CNN:

How many African-American women with AIDS?
Posted: 10:27 p.m.
Gwen Ifill just asked Cheney to talk about AIDS in America.

She specifically asked Cheney not to talk about AIDS overseas. But all Cheney's talking about is AIDS overseas. He hasn't been programmed on it, and candidly told Gwen he didn't know about how African-American women have been hurt by the disease.

One of the downsides of the Bush-Cheney record is the sense that they care more about the rest of the world than America.

But Edwards is responding in terms of Africa -- first AIDS, and now genocide. Come on, guys, bring it home.

Jessi Klein, also blogging for CNN:

AIDS is infecting who?
10:19 p.m. ET
Did Cheney just admit that he was not aware of an AIDS statistic that Gwen brought up? I think for Cheney to say he doesn't know about something in this forum, he has to truly, truly not know about it.

That's pretty disturbing, no matter how you slice it. Wonder if he did the same thing with the AIDS statistics memo that Condi did with that silly "Al Qaeda Plans On Attacking US Inside the Country Using Airplanes" memo in August 2001?

Keith Olberman at MSNBC blogs the debate as a boxing match (which explains the "score" at the end of his post:

Round sixteen: Cheney receives about AIDS affecting women in America.
Cheney flinches, talks globally, cites $15B for international aid. Minus one point to Cheney. Says he had not heard numbers about African-American women. Startling admission. Minus one point to Cheney. Cheney wounded badly. Edwards misses easy opening on Cheney's unfamiliarity, goes back to Africa. Minus one point to Edwards. Opens up towards Sudan, says "here, we need to do much more." Broadens out ineffectively to American health care coverage. Subject completely avoided. Minus one point to Edwards. Round -- Draw, -2 to -2.

I couldn't find any blogs or mention of the AIDS question and responses at FOX, CBS, or ABC. It is gratifying, however, that two major media outlets, albeit cable rather than network, did pick up on the question and respond. I know that the issue is cropping up on some of the political blogs that are not funded by the corporate media--and that will be quite helpful now in raising some awareness of the issue. The importance of the corporate media, however, is that these are the outlets that will reach the broadest audience. How--and whether--this question is covered in these media outlets will help increase awareness and understanding of the issue.

The only way this is likely to happen is for folks in the HIV/AIDS community to follow up on the opening that Ifill has given us to provide the answers that neither candidate provided:

  • The Senate needs to increase the proposed appropriation for AIDS Drug Assistance Program from $35 million to $217 million.
  • The CDC needs to rescind its requirement to provide confusing information about the effectiveness of condoms in preventing the spread of HIV so that prevention workers can do a more effective job in outreach.
  • The Administration must make sure that the changes in Medicare that provide for a prescription benefit does not decrease access to HIV medications.


Anonymous said...

I have a simpler solution:

1. Abstinence before marriage.
2. Monagamous relationship in marriage
3. Get partner tested for AIDS before marriage and if have no money, then ask deacons in church to help pay for test.

Admittedly tragedies strike without notice, but be faithful to spouse and demand same, and the number of women with aids will decrease dramatically, though not be zero.

Carolyn said...

Dear Anonymous:

Thank you for sharing your thoughts. You suggestions certainly make sense, and, for some people, those ideas would work wonderfully well. However, they simply won't work for everyone, so we really do need to think about a whole raft of solutions for all the different people who at risk for HIV infection.

Abstinence is a good idea for single folks, especially young single folks. Sadly, abstinence has an unfortunately high failure rate. Just like condoms, abstinence has to be used consistently (no King's X for prom night, kids!) and correctly (yes, oral sex really is sex--and you can get HIV from oral sex). We seem to have a ways to go in explaining all of this to young folks.

Faithfulness is another really good idea--for anyone in a committed relationship. We can't always know the dynamics of a relationship between two people, nor can we know how they themselves want to carry out their relationship. However, having multiple sex partners does increase one's risk for infection. If the end of one sexual relationship leads to the beginning of another, barrier protection is important. So is getting tested for HIV before having unprotected sex.

As for getting tested before marriage, Anonymous, you are absolutely correct. Anytime two people choose to have unprotected sex and do not know each other's sexual history, they should get tested for HIV and use barrier protection or abstain until those test results are back.

I really applaud the deacons of your church for being so supportive of HIV testing. I urge you and them to donate to your local AIDS organizations to support them in their prevention efforts.

One thing, though. HIV is not only spread by sexual contact. It is also spread by infected needles. We need more needle exchange programs to help with that part of the problem. I also urge you and the deacons of your church to support legislation in your state to make more needle exchange programs available. The recent passage of needle exchange legislation in California is an inspiration to us all and gives us hope that, even in Texas, we may someday see some progress on this.

Finally, let me refer you to an earlier post on this blog that talks about poverty as a co-factor in HIV infection. You and the deacons in your church can also help out by helping to reduce poverty or at least the ill effects of poverty in your area. Lack of access to health care (one of those ill effects) is a major problem in this country, and far too many people lack health insurance. You and the good deacons can contribute to a solution by paying insurance premiums for those who are in need and by supporting efforts in your area to create a more equitable health care system.

Again, thank you for sharing your thoughts. We appreciate your support.