Don’t Let Us Down! Don’t Let Us Die!

More than 50 AIDS activists from the groups Housing Works, AIDS Action in Mississippi (AAIM) and AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) interrupted a speech by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius with a protest to decry the Obama administration’s dismal record on AIDS.

The demonstration was organized during an appearance by the Secretary at the United States Conference on AIDS (USCA) on Monday in Orlando.

At the beginning of her luncheon speech before an audience of approximately 2,000 conference attendees, the AIDS activists marched down the main aisle of the auditorium chanting, “Secretary Sebelius, Don’t let us down!, don’t let us die!”

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The protesters then gathered at the front of the hall with their signs and placards just below the stage and podium where Sebelius was speaking and then held their signs up high, effectively blocking the Secretary from view.

“Secretary Sibelius said nothing new today. The Obama administration’s efforts on AIDS continue to fall far short of what is needed and as a result, the health and well being of thousands of HIV/AIDS patients is being jeopardized,” said Whitney Engeran-Cordova, senior director, Public Health Division for AHF.

“The money the White House has redirected toward the crisis facing the nation’s network of AIDS Drug Assistance Programs—$25 million in July, with an additional $30 million for next year—has done little to solve the $126 million shortfall that is crippling ADAP. As of September 9, there are 3,423 people on ADAP waiting lists across the US—1,570 of whom are in Florida, which also has the third highest caseload of HIV patients in the nation.

“We needed to send a message to Washington with Secretary Sebelius, who gave what was basically a stump speech, that the administration must really step up to the plate and identify funds to redirect to cash-strapped ADAPs. The government should act like its citizens’ lives depend on it—they do!”

Earlier in the summer, according to AHF, Obama Administration officials suggested that the addition of $25 million in funding for this year and $30 million in additional funding for next year could adequately help close the gaping $126 million hole in funding for ADAP, the federal and state funded, state run network of assistance programs that supply lifesaving AIDS drugs to low-income Americans in need.

As many states face massive budget shortfalls and seek to cut services, thirteen states have gone as far as instituting patient waiting lists. As of September 9th, 3,423 patients across the nation have been placed on ADAP waiting lists to receive access to lifesaving antiretroviral AIDS treatment. In addition, many ADAPs are raising eligibility requirements, which shut out even more people from these programs, AHF informs.

AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) is said to be the largest global AIDS organization. It currently provides medical care and/or services to more than 137,000 individuals in 23 countries worldwide in the US, Africa, Latin America/Caribbean, the Asia Pacific Region and Eastern Europe.

Founded in 1990, Housing Works is New York City’s largest community-based nonprofit AIDS organization dedicated to providing lifesaving services such as housing, meals and medical care, for homeless and low-income New Yorkers living with HIV/AIDS.

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