A report by Jeff Sheehy, director for communications at the AIDS Research Institute at UCSF, a longtime HIV/AIDS and LGBT human rights activist and a person living with HIV:
“What we learn in time of pestilence: that there are more things to admire in men than to despise.”
-Albert Camus, The Plague
Hillary Clinton was electrifying this morning at the opening plenary committing the U.S. to an “AIDS free generation,” but I found myself wishing George W. Bush were here too.
The first AIDS Conference I attended was in Durban in 2000 (though I was one of many San Franciscans in the streets at the last one held in the U.S. in 1990). I came out of that conference with a stark awareness that something terrible was happening throughout Sub-Saharan Africa and with fear that the world would either temporize or dribble out just enough resources to salve our wealthy country consciences.
I could not have imagined that 12 years later, 8 million people from low- and middle-income countries would be on life-saving medications and the global leader in that effort would have been George W. Bush.
Bush has not been popular among many in liberal San Francisco, for a lot of obvious reasons, but half of those 8 million people are directly treated through his signature initiative, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. Through 2010, $46 billion has been committed, an effort that seems almost imaginable in this time of austerity.
I’d like to see Mr. Bush because he deserves a victory lap and, as a person living with HIV, I owe him a standing ovation. But I’d also like to see him here because it would remind all of us, including myself, that this horrible disease that has cost the world so much, sometimes brings us all together in a common effort. We forget for a moment our differences and remember that we are all human and we have a moral responsibility to each other.
To quote Camus again, “What’s true of all the evils in the world is true of the plague as well. It helps men to rise above themselves. All the same, when you see the misery it brings, you’d need to be a madman, or a coward, or stone blind, to give in tamely to the plague.”
If we are to find the resources we need to deploy if we are to have an “AIDS free generation,” we need to rise above ourselves and we need a dose of Bush’s stubborn determination to not give in tamely.
And I ask the question everyone is asking, “Where is Barack?” Will he come to this conference?