Wearing an AIDS red ribbon on this lapel, Ezekiel Emanuel, MD, a special advisor to the White House on health policy, participated in a panel discussion this morning during an IAS 2010 pre-meeting entitled “Bridging the Divide – Inter-Disciplinary Partnerships for HIV and Health Systems Strengthening.”
“This is a challenge to everyone — Partially to the U.S. but the rest of the world too,” Emaneul said, when posed with the question if the U.S. was retreating on its commitment to HIV/AIDS. “As President Obama has made quite clear in the two budgets he has submitted, he has remained very committed to global health in general and HIV/AIDS treatment in particular.” Emanuel challenged those who have criticized the administration for cutting global AIDS by saying that “We are all entitled to our own opinions, but we are not entitled to our own facts.”
The AIDS community has been vocal lately of their displeasure with the Obama administration’s proposed FY 2011 budget which would not make cuts to the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and global health, but does call for a $50 million cut from the 2010 funding level for the Global Fund to Fight HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria. The increases proposed for PEPFAR are also marginal compared with the steep upward trajectory of funding for the program since its inception.
Emanuel made many references to the global economic downturn, but did say, “We have made projections about what we are going to commit to through 2014 and that increase (to global AIDS funding) will be pretty substantial… This is not a retreat,” he said.
On another front, just as Emanuel began speaking, a group of six silent protesters raised paper signs from their seats at the front of the room, one of which stated, “Fund AIDS Treatment, Saves Women’s Lives.”
Dr. Emanuel has made the point on more than one occasion that the money for AIDS would be better invested in inexpensive interventions for curable health conditions in women and children.
During the subsequent question and answer period one of the protesters, a masters in public health student from the University of Michigan, made a plea to Dr. Emanuel, stating “Yes, I agree. New funding needs to be made available to women and children. But please encourage (President) Obama to fund global AIDS at $50 billion over the next five years as he promised. If he doesn’t, many women and children will be dying. Make sure he does keep his commitment to the numbers,” she said.
Emanuel also challenged the meeting participants to identify programs that were “not working” as well as those that are.