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Candidates Silent on AIDS in Black Community

New America Media, Commentary, Earl Ofari Hutchinson Posted: Aug 01, 2008

Editors Note: More African Americans are afflicted with AIDS than persons in Botswana, Ethiopia, Haiti, Rwanda and Vietnam. Yet Obama and McCain have been strangely silent on the issue, writes Earl Ofari Hutchinson, author and political analyst. His new book is "How the GOP Can Keep the White House, How the Democrats Can Take it Back."

A clearly befuddled and flustered presidential contender John McCain stumbled almost laughingly over a question from an audience member during a town hall talk in Iowa in March 2007. The questioner asked what he'd do to combat the AIDS plague. McCain, after several stumbles, nervously said that he didn't know enough about the problem and then tossed the ball to his advisors. He said he was confident that they'd come up with some solutions.

The media had a mild field day poking fun at McCains AIDS bumble, but the issue is hardly the stuff of a bad comedy routine. A few months after McCain's wobble, Obama and wife, Michelle, in a widely shown photo, were shown getting their AIDS test. Obama followed this with a public pledge to formulate a national strategy on AIDS, ramp up government spending on testing, education and treatment, and expand access to generic drugs in Africa and other poor nations.

This was admirable but it was a year ago. He hasn't publicly addressed the issue since.

During the campaign, Obama and McCain have given countless speeches on the terrorism fight, the Iraq War, the Iran missile threat, immigration, the housing and banking crisis, a tanking economy, and affordable health care. These are crucial problems and millions of Americans demand that both candidates tell exactly what they're going to do about them in the White House. But as devastating as these problems are to many families, they do not pile up bodies and wreak catastrophic havoc on entire sectors of the population, mostly poor black communities. The HIV/AIDS plague does.

The Black AIDS Institute in a recent report backed up by statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) sounded a loud alarm that the number of African Americans afflicted with the disease is now so high that blacks would rank sixteenth among the nations whose citizens are afflicted with the disease. Blacks make up nearly half of all new AIDS cases in the United States. That figure has remained virtually unchanged for the past few years.

The AIDS plague has long been the single biggest health issue in poor black communities. This is all the more reason for Obama and McCain to speak out on the crisis and spell out just what they will do about it. So far they haven't done that.

In a campaign position paper Obama has said he will push for more funds for AIDS treatment, education and testing. But much of his emphasis has been on African nations. In 2006 Obama publicly lambasted government negligence in the AIDS battle. But the government was the South African government for its disgraceful head-in-the-sand attitude toward the mounting crisis in that country.

Bush actually went further and modestly delivered on his promise to increase funds for treatment and education programs and push forgreater access of drugs in Africa. The Black AIDS Institute notes that since then the number of AIDS cases have dropped in some African countries. Even more embarrassing, more African Americans are afflicted with AIDS than persons in Botswana, Ethiopia, Haiti, Rwanda and Vietnam. These are among the poorest countries on the planet and have been wracked by war, civil war, genocide atrocities and chronic political unrest. Yet they have managed to reduce the numbers of their AIDS afflictions while the number of African Americans with AIDS continues to rise.

Meanwhile, McCain hasn't done any more homework on the AIDS crisis since his stumble in Iowa more than a year ago. HIV/AIDS is not even mentioned as an item in the detailed health care plan on his official Web site.

But even if McCain had boned up on the AIDS crisis and laid out a plan to confront the crisis, and Obama had fleshed out more details about confronting the crisis in African-American communities, it's still no substitute for speaking out on the campaign trail about the crisis and pushing government, health agencies and private donors to do more to combat the AIDS plague.

Obama or McCain will occupy the White House in 2009 and will be there in 2010. That's the target year that the United States, along with other international agencies, has set to prevent 7 million more HIV infections. The likelihood is good they'll meet the target goal. The Bush administration did play a role in helping some of the poorest nations dramatically turn the corner in combatting AIDS. But it happened because Bush reacted to the withering fire he got for not speaking out and doing something to help these nations. Presidential candidates Obama and McCain can and should do no less. They should break their silence now.

Related Articles:

The Business of AIDS

Fight AIDS in Africa and in Black America

Obama: The Only Presidential Hopeful With AIDS on His Website

Opium, Drug Use Drive Second Wave of AIDS Pandemic

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