Student rally for AIDS funding outside White House

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A group of students rallied outside the White House Friday afternoon to encourage President Obama to fund a global campaign for AIDS relief.

The rally, organized by GW’s chapter of the Student Global AIDS Campaign, focused on increasing support for PEPFAR – the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief – founded in 2003 under President George W. Bush. With the United States House of Representatives and Senate slated to vote on the country’s foreign aid budget in the near future and potentially funding the program less than it was guaranteed last year, SGAC Action Coordinator Kaitlin McKenzie said it was important to increase AIDS awareness now.

“The primary goal of the rally was to encourage President Obama to fund [PEPFAR] the amount it was promised in 2008 – $48 billion over the next 5 years,” McKenzie said.

Last year, the initiative was given additional funding to fight diseases like tuberculosis and malaria. In turbulent economic times, however, Obama is considering giving the program less money than it was promised, McKenzie said – so SGAC organized its rally in support of fully funding the program.

The $48 billion is necessary because supporters want to put as many people living with HIV or AIDS on virus-fighting drugs as possible, McKenzie added.

The event was co-sponsored by Physicians for Human Rights, an organization comprised of health professionals that support a right to good health for all people. Representatives from PHR and students from GW, Virginia Commonwealth University, Northeastern University and the University of Illinois were in made up the crowd.

“The rally was absolutely a success,” McKenzie said. “To find out that other people care about these issues in the same way that we do was really exciting.”

PEPFAR was first authorized in 2003, funding resource-limited countries with a high number of HIV-infected people. It has provided treatment for more than 2 million people through 2008, McKenzie said.

“Just because we are in a global financial crisis does not mean we should cut funding for AIDS treatment,” SGAC Chapter Leader Nora Stillman said. “In fact, now is exactly when we should be funding these treatments in order to create more stable families and, in turn, boosting the economies of these countries.”

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