|WANTED: Global AIDS Coordinator - Requirements: Must Have Vision and a Commitment to Young People|
These are the grim statistics that greet a new generation of young people after 25 years of the global AIDS pandemic – statistics that demand a fresh, new approach to HIV prevention.
Last month, Advocates joined 49 other organizations in a letter to President-elect Obama urging him to appoint a new Global AIDS Coordinator within the first 30 days of his Presidency. We joined this group of HIV/AIDS, reproductive health, youth, legal and development organizations because we believe that we are at a critical moment in the global AIDS pandemic that requires new thinking, new direction, and new vision.
I kept telling my colleagues that the new President would never keep someone in this pivotal position who had been so closely associated with the exportation of the Bush Administration’s failed abstinence-until-marriage policies. So it was with deep disappointment that I learned that President-elect Obama might keep Ambassador Mark Dybul as the Global AIDS Coordinator (GAC).
On Ambassador Dybul’s watch, not only have we witnessed increased funding for restrictive abstinence-until-marriage policies that deny young people life-saving information, but the continued prohibition on funding for needle exchange, a key tool in the fight against HIV among injecting drug users and their partners. Further, his adamant refusal to integrate family planning and HIV prevention has undermined efforts to stop the spread of HIV among women and girls.
The new Global AIDS Coordinator must be a visionary who understands the importance of comprehensive education for youth; the integration of family planning and HIV prevention; and the urgency of addressing stigma and discrimination.
In the months ahead, the Global AIDS Coordinator will be responsible for drafting the guidance that will direct new funding under the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). That guidance will be the determining factor in whether funded countries are able to develop a comprehensive, evidence-based approach to HIV prevention, treatment and care. Given President-elect Obama’s commitment to science-based public policy, it is troubling that these new regulations will be drafted by a public official who promoted ideology at the expense of HIV prevention.
There is clear evidence that the abstinence-until-marriage restrictions of PEPFAR have seriously undermined comprehensive strategies to stop the spread of HIV at the country level.
The Obama Administration still has an opportunity to change direction. Let’s hope that they will seize that opportunity by appointing a new Global AIDS Coordinator with a truly science-based vision for HIV prevention, and an authentic commitment to global youth.
Advocates for Youth is a national, nonprofit organization that creates programs and supports policies that help young people make safe, responsible decisions about their sexual and reproductive health.