In the 80’s, AIDS was a killer and times were dangerous for gay men as they were the first US AIDS cases. Brutally stigmatized, many died with little to no support. Laguna Beach had the country’s highest incidence of AIDS. The town was viewed as welcoming due to City Councilman Bob Gentry, who helped pass several non-discrimination ordinances. Politics has played a role in the fight against AIDS for over 30 years. Thankfully, HIV and AIDS are no longer a death sentence, but the need for awareness and funding in research, health inequities, education, access to care, and reduction of stigma continue. As the 2016 Presidential election nears, this topic has been essentially ignored by most candidates. This is a frightening harbinger of the future as political support is necessary for funding, awareness, and stigma reduction.
As reported on MSNBC, Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC) distributed a political survey on HIV to the 2016 Presidential candidates, prior to the first primary. Of the original 18, Martin O’Malley, Hillary Clinton, and Bernie Sanders responded, but no republicans. It is frustrating that so many dismissed a survey addressing an illness that has, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 40,000 new diagnoses in the US annually. Politicians can draw attention to HIV stigma issues, change laws, and raise HIV awareness. In the survey, Sanders provides several one-word answers, but seems focused on moving forward in the fight against HIV and AIDS. Clinton focuses on medical care, prevention, research, funding, barriers, and stigma. Both candidates are encouraging, which is hopeful as political support helps change legislation, reduce stigma, and fund research, all necessary in saving lives and improving quality of life for millions.
Discouragingly, after three decades, stigma remains and HIV positive people continue being marginalized and poorly treated. According to the World Health Organization, approximately 37 million people are currently live with HIV. As this is a vital public health issue affecting the entire planet, political help through legislation and program funding is paramount in awareness, education, and stigma reduction. With a public health issue of this magnitude, now is the time for both Democratic and Republican Presidential candidates to address their HIV/AIDS plan of action should they get elected. If they choose to ignore it now, the attention it receives should they move into the White House will not be much, if any, better.
The history of AIDS changed forever when President George H. W. Bush first signed the Ryan White Care Act which established funding for improved HIV care for those in need. Federal programs like this are vital in reducing HIV stigma and providing access to care, but continued political authorization and improvement is needed as advances are made in HIV research. AIDS and HIV are now a chronic illness, but much work in advocacy, support services, stigma decrease/elimination, and research persists. For non-profit organizations such as Shanti Orange County that continue to offer HIV and AIDS related programs, funding remains a concern. It is necessary to raise funds for the Shanti Strutters Team in the AIDS Walk Orange County and 5k Fun Run on May 14, 2016 at Mason Park in Irvine for continued support of HIV-centered critical programs. Lack of political interest makes these events crucial as politics is the driving force behind funding legislation and access to care.
According to the CDC, well over 1.2 million people in the United States live with HIV or AIDS and approximately 6,940 are in Orange County. Thankfully, the incidence of HIV and AIDS in Laguna Beach is no longer the highest in the country, but to continue moving forward in the fight, politicians must take interest and must take action.
Nik Warren is a fourth year Public Health Policy major at the University of California, Irvine
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