(Charnoff) Rain fell across the Saint Michael’s College campus in Colchester on Wednesday as the school observed World AIDS Day.
Across the campus green, students filed past 400 cardboard gravestone markers, each one displaying a handwritten message or slogan – “Silence equals death,” “Could have been treated,” “Progress reversed,” “Save the fund.”
The fund in question is the Global Fund for AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. According to Political Science Associate Professor Patricia Siplon, the Global Fund is on the verge of bankruptcy. Siplon says this is because of a deliberate decision by the United States to decrease appropriations for the fund.
(Siplon) “The United States, by lowballing its efforts, sets the bar incredibly low for the rest of the world, because the Europeans essentially make their donations with respect to what the United States does. And if it lowballs, then the Europeans lowball as well. And so it’s very difficult for advocates in other countries to go push their governments, because their governments come back with, Well the richest country in the world that’s 30 percent of the world’s economy doesn’t seem to think this is very important, what do you expect us to do?”
(Charnoff) Professor Siplon says that the U.S. is putting money into the Presidential Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR. But Siplon says under this plan, the United States has too much control over the how the money is spent.
(Siplon) “Activists think that Global Fund is a much better vehicle for a number of reasons: the overhead on it is much lower, it’s driven by the designs of the countries themselves, rather than being imposed on the countries, and the drugs that are used in the Global Fund are permitted to be generic versions of drugs, which are cheaper and also actually forms that are easier for people to take. So from our perspective, the Global Fund is a better vehicle, but there’s at least a political argument that it’s purposely being starved so that the PEPFAR can become the vehicle of choice instead.”
(Charnoff) Many of the gravestone messages around the campus are direct pleas to Senator Patrick Leahy, because of his influence on the Senate Appropriations Committee. Professor Siplon says the fight for the Global Fund is an uphill battle, but that every phone call made and every letter written can have an impact.
(Siplon) “There was a really famous speech that was made a few years ago in Durbin, South Africa, and a Supreme Court justice who’s HIV positive there said, “This is the moral test of our times. This is the time that people will look back and question why people were so complacent.”
(Charnoff) World AIDS Day began 17 years ago, and is observed every year on December 1.
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Neal Charnoff.