Hoping to stimulate progress on the country’s HIV AIDS crisis, the National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS led more than 50 influential clergy members to Capital Hill on March 17 to lobby for the commission’s Elimination of HIV/AIDS Act of 2009.

The act calls for the federal government to lead the way in providing resources to stop the spread of HIV and AIDS, and pinpoint areas of prevention in which drastic changes need to be made.

“We were there to discuss the importance of this legislation among the members of Congress,” said C. Virginia Fields, president and CEO of the commission. “We also spoke in support of the health care reform bill, because many features of the health care reform’s proposed legislation certainly would address the needs of people living with AIDS’ preexisting conditions.”

Throughout the day, community representatives spoke of the importance of legislation that addresses the disproportionate number of African-Americans affected by HIV and AIDS, and the lack of resources available in the communities of greatest need.

The commission’s effort comes as the Obama administration continues work on its National AIDS Strategy. The commission said it seeks to ensure that Blacks are recognized in the policy as being disproportionately affected by HIV and AIDS.

While Blacks represent about 12 percent of the U.S. population, they accounted for almost half of new AIDS diagnoses in 2007, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. Blacks also accounted for 57 percent of deaths due to HIV in 2006, and their survival time after an AIDS diagnosis is lower on average than any other racial or ethnic group.

Fields said she “would like to see the numbers go down and see more of a focus on prevention in the future.”

“We must do all that we can to provide treatment and care to those who are infected,” she said.

Fields included that there has to be a strong focus on prevention to lower the numbers of people who become infected.

The commission’s HIV/AIDS bill was the result of a 2007gathering where medical experts, clergy and many others from around the nation met to develop a program to combat the HIV/AIDS crisis. The legislation was introduced by Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) in April, and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D- N.Y.) introduced it to the Senate in February.

 

Gregory Dale

AFRO News Editor