Michaela Jae Rodriguez
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Where Is the Debate on HIV and AIDS?

Where Is the Debate on HIV and AIDS?

“What’s your biggest weakness?” “Fantasy sports betting: Is this gambling and should it be allowed?”

Believe it or not, these were questions asked in presidential primary debates this year. Thus far, the candidates have been asked to answer silly questions on fantasy sports betting, personal finances, their energy levels, and some even took a bold stand on the vital question of whether they would kill baby Hitler if they could travel back in time. 

To date, there has not been a single question related to HIV or AIDS.

Debate moderators are not the only ones at fault. Candidates have made it a point to dedicate their valuable mike time to tout prior accomplishments and make personal attacks when they could be talking about issues of critical importance — like how to prevent the disease that has already killed approximately 39 million people worldwide.

Every day, about 5,600 people worldwide contract HIV — more than 230 every hour. There are currently more than 1.2 million people living with the infection in the United States, and we can expect roughly an additional 50,000 new HIV infections next year. Even more unsettling than these statistics is the fact that we no longer have a conversation about finding a cure. Why is it that we let our call to arms fade away into barely a whisper?

Successful activism and scientific advancements have brought us to an historic crossroads. HIV and AIDS is no longer a death sentence. New lifesaving medication strategies like PrEP and PEP are over 90 percent effective in preventing HIV in healthy individuals. But real challenges remain, from access to health care and accurate sexual health information, to emerging threats like the recent surge in heroin use. Despite our progress, almost one in eight people in the United States with HIV are unaware of their status.

We can’t afford to let future generations forget how serious and devastating a disease this is. Any serious contender who claims to be the “next generation’s” candidate should have a thoughtful and purposeful strategy that expands access to prevention tools nationwide and seeks to end the HIV and AIDS epidemic.

And this strategy should be shared with the world.  The presidential debates may not be talking about HIV and AIDS, but we are.

Gay Men’s Health Crisis is serving as the unofficial debate monitor this election cycle — asking the critical questions that no one has asked.

All 18 presidential candidates, Republicans and Democrats, have been invited to make their HIV and AIDS agendas clear and public by January 18 by filling out this election cycle’s first HIV and AIDS questionnaire. This survey is not going to be used to endorse any candidate. The purpose of the survey is simple — to ensure that the public and all those affected by the epidemic understand every candidate’s views on HIV and AIDS.

Some questions center on broad health care issues that relate to HIV prevention and treatment, such as access to health care and pharmaceutical price gouging. Candidates are asked to state their position on federal protection from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in housing, the workplace, and other areas. They are also asked how they plan to improve upon the reach of Medicaid, Medicare, and the Affordable Care Act, an issue relevant to all Americans, especially those living with HIV and AIDS.

Other survey questions hone in on precise policies such as funding for HIV education, prevention, and treatment research and programs, and HIV and gender-based violence. The survey presses candidates to explain their plans for the services and programs that, for millions, are vital to their overall health and well-being.

These might not be questions that produce the best sound bites or rile up the crowd. But they are questions that matter to millions of Americans affected by the epidemic, and hundreds of millions of people around the world.

KELSEY LOUIE
KELSEY LOUIE is the CEO of Gay Men's Health Crisis.
Tags: Commentary, HIV

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