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Obama Campaign
Unveils Plan to Fix Underfunded HIV/AIDS Programs

Obama Campaign
Unveils Plan to Fix Underfunded HIV/AIDS Programs

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Sen. Barack Obama's campaign held a conference call Thursday intended to highlight his policy prescriptions for combating the HIV/AIDS epidemic -- including increased funding for research, care, and prevention as well as developing a national HIV/AIDS strategy within the first year of his administration.

Sen. Barack Obama's campaign held a conference call Thursday intended to highlight his policy prescriptions for combating the HIV/AIDS epidemic -- including increased funding for research, care, and prevention as well as developing a national HIV/AIDS strategy within the first year of his administration.

Surrogates for the campaign tried to pound home distinctions between an Obama-Biden administration's approach to the disease and a McCain-Palin administration's.

"One of the most important differences is going to be leadership on public health issues that are facing America, in particular the ongoing HIV/AIDS epidemic," congresswoman Diana DeGette, vice chair of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, said.

DeGette noted that while Obama's health care plan requires health insurance companies to cover everyone regardless of preexisting conditions, Sen. John McCain's does not, because insurers would be allowed to move into states that don't guarantee such coverage.

"As everyone knows, this is critical to the HIV/AIDS community," she said.

Sandra Thurman, former director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy under President Clinton, stressed the importance of developing a national AIDS strategy.

"As a former director of the Office of National AIDS Policy, I can't imagine anything more important than having a national AIDS strategy, the likes of which we have never had in the history of the epidemic for over a quarter of a century," she said.

Thurman, who joined the call from Kenya, stressed the fact that Ryan White CARE Act, which provides federal funding to local programs and services for people living with HIV/AIDS, has been underfunded even as the nation continues to log 50,000 new HIV infections a year and AIDS has become the number 1 cause of death for African-American women between the ages of 15 and 44.

"We have an epidemic in the United States which, in many ways, has not slowed down," she said, adding, "We haven't had an increase in support and funding that's commensurate with the challenges that we're facing in communities that already have serious issues to deal with."

Ryan White has essentially been flat-funded since the year 2000. Though representatives from the Obama campaign promised increases, they did not commit to a dollar amount. "We want to make sure we work with Congress to come up with the right number as we go forward," said Neera Tanden, the Obama campaign's domestic policy director.

Tanden added that increased funding would help limit the extent to which rural areas with an emerging epidemic have to compete for money with urban areas that already have a large population of persons living with AIDS. "We don't need to have this divisive strategy of pitting one area against another. We should add additional funding," she said.

Congresswoman DeGette noted that McCain, during two different debates, has suggested enacting a "spending freeze" on nearly all governmental programs in order to curb spending and reduce the deficit.

"If you cut the Ryan White Act, you'd be cutting from a program that's already underfunded," she said.

Another point surrogates emphasized was Obama's focus on using a "science-based" approach to fighting the epidemic rather than relying on abstinence-only education to decrease infection rates.

"With all of the billions of dollars that have been given to HIV/AIDS prevention around the world," DeGette said of the Bush administration's international efforts, "most of that money has been given to, in the past, religious organizations that will not give condoms out. Now that just isn't going to work."

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