LOS ANGELES - Although President Obama did not explicitly mention HIV/AIDS in his third State of the Union address, he did speak of themes in his vision for the country that could provide inspiration for those of us committed to ending the AIDS epidemic in our country. He spoke about cutting the deficit, but stressed that it should not be done "on the backs of our most vulnerable citizens." The president committed to "invest in biomedical research, and information technology. " These kinds of investments could capitalize on the American innovative spirit and possibly bring us closer to a cure for HIV/AIDS.
Possibly the most poignant statement of the night for people living with HIV/AIDS came when talking about health care reform. The president declared that he is not willing to go back to the days when insurance companies could deny someone coverage because of a preexisting condition.
The Black AIDS Institute stands behind the president's resolve to "fix what needs fixing [with regard to health care reform] and move forward."
Like education, the economy, jobs, and the deficit, fighting HIV/AIDS must also be a proactive battle. President Obama spoke of the need to invest in education, stating that "we also have to win the race to educate our kids." We would hope that investment would include an investment in comprehensive sexual education, arming the nation's students with the information they need to protect themselves and make responsible choices.
As President Obama noted, "the challenges we face," including ending AIDS, "are bigger than party, and bigger than politics." Clearly, they are also bigger than one speech. As inspirational as this one might have been, it was short on details. It is up to us to fill in some of those details. We should not wait for the president or Congress to fill in all the spaces. The president released a national AIDS strategy last year. It has been up to us to work with the president and federal agencies to make sure that strategy is implemented in a way that reduces new infections and increases access to appropriate care and treatment.
"We are still bound together as one people." But some of us people have AIDS and one of our challenges-in the rush to cut the budget and reduce the deficit-is to ensure that the HIV/AIDS crisis facing this country does not go unnoticed. The "big things" that the president noted this country to be capable of can begin with a resolve to do all that we can do, and all that we must do, to combat this epidemic.
Yours in the Struggle,
Phill Wilson is the President and CEO of the Black AIDS Institute, the only National HIV/AIDS think tank in the United States focused exclusively on Black people.