Less than two weeks away from the start of the XIX International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2012), President Obama has still not confirmed whether he will visit to the D.C. convention center a few blocks from the White House, site of the conference.

But Obama critics say that’s par for the course for an administration that, according to declared one of the conference’s key participating organizations, has placed a “lukewarm priority,” on HIV/AIDS.

“It’s dismaying and unfortunate and all too telling of the priority this administration has placed on HIV and AIDS,” Tom Myers, general counsel and chief of public affairs of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, told the AFRO.

More than 25,000 leading AIDS scientists, researchers, medical providers, patients and advocates from around the world are expected to attend the biennial conference, which is being held in the United States for the first time in more than 20 years.

While President Obama’s removal, in 2010, of the travel ban on HIV/AIDS patients made the conference possible, AHF representatives say the administration’s track record on addressing the global epidemic is spotty.

For example, under Obama’s proposed fiscal year 2013 budget for the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) , funding would be slashed by $214 million, from $6.63 billion to $6.42 billion. The decrease represents 640,000 people with HIV/AIDS who otherwise would have received lifesaving AIDS treatment for one year, according to AIDS treatment advocates.

This is “the first time, an administration has actually proposed reducing America’s contribution to that,” Myers said.

Under President George W. Bush, for example, PEPFAR actually grew from $15 billion to $45 billion over five years.

The budget and the 2,000 Americans languishing on a wait-list for the AIDS Drug Assistance Programs (ADAP), the network of programs that provide AIDS drugs to low-income Americans living with HIV/AIDS, defy the president’s stated goal to create an “AIDS free generation.”

“Actions speak louder than words,” said AHF President Michael Weinstein in statements made at a press conference on July 9. “Defunding PEPFAR and ignoring ADAP waiting lists merely confirm what people with HIV/AIDS and their advocates have long suspected—that the president is not seriously committed to fighting AIDS. Without increasing PEPFAR funding to the levels already authorized by Congress, just holding steady against the epidemic—let alone achieving an ‘AIDS-free generation,’—as the president made great fanfare about, is simply empty rhetoric and is likely to fall on deaf ears at the AIDS conference.”

In fact, Myers told the AFRO, if Obama plans to come to the conference empty-handed, it would be best if he not attend at all.

“It’s not about will he show up or won’t he show up. It’s about what he’s going to do ,” Myers said. ““If he’s just going to come and not make any concrete commitments then it may be better that he not come.”

The White House did not respond to a request for a statement on the matter in time for this AFRO article to be published. 

Zenitha Prince

Special to the AFRO