Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton called for an end to the HIV/AIDS epidemic “once and for all” in remarks before meeting with a group of HIV/AIDS activists on Thursday.According to the Clinton campaign, the candidate met with a diverse group representing more than 70 leaders and organizations in the HIV/AIDS community at the Hillary for America headquarters in Brooklyn, N.Y. Among the discussion topics were tackling the epidemic in the U.S. and globally, fighting discrimination against HIV/AIDS and working together with HIV and AIDS experts and advocates to achieve an “AIDS-free generation.”
In public remarks before the meeting took place, Clinton called for additional resources to confront HIV/AIDS both within the United States and overseas.
“We do have the tools to end this epidemic once and for all, but we need to rededicate ourselves to fighting HIV and AIDS, and leaving no one behind,” Clinton said. “That means continuing to increase research and expanding the use of medications like PrEP. It means capping out-of-pockets expenses and drug costs, and building on President Obama’s National HIV and AIDS Strategy to increase the number of people on HIV treatment worldwide.”
Clinton also called to reform state HIV criminalization laws, which continue in various forms to criminalize perceived exposure to HIV in 32 states regardless of the actual risk of transmission.
Activists said in a statement 20 representatives took part in the meeting and presented Clinton a policy document that, among other recommendations, seeks to increase U.S. funding in the global AIDS response by $2 billion by 2020. According to activists, that would double the number of people on treatment directly supported by the United States to more than 30 million people by 2020.
According to the statement from HIV/AIDS activists, Clinton didn’t commit to this target, but agreed to make public treatment and funding targets for the global AIDS program. Activists have asked the candidate to release these targets within 30 days.
Hilary McQuie, who attended the meeting as director of U.S. policy and grassroots mobilization for the HIV/AIDS group Health GAP, said the next president must increase the momentum in the global AIDS effort by increasing funding.
“We are at a crossroads in the AIDS response,” McQuie said. “If we scale up access to treatment and prevention programs within the next five years, we will curb the spread of HIV and see the end of the pandemic as we know it by 2030. If we choose to continue business as usual, we will see rising infection rates and millions more preventable deaths in the coming decades.”
According to the statement from HIV/AIDS activists, delegates in the meeting also raised concerns about pharmaceutical prices and global access to medicine, including problems that result from trade deals and intellectual property law. The activists requested that Clinton commit to stop the Trans-Pacific Partnership and similar trade agreements in addition to stopping U.S. pressure on India to change the patent laws, which they say allow it to produce generic medications.
In response, Clinton reaffirmed her opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership particularly on the grounds of its intellectual property provisions regarding pharmaceuticals, according to the statement.
Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, praised Clinton in a statement for taking part in the meeting, saying it demonstrates her commitment to fighting HIV/AIDS.
“It is essential that our next president be an outspoken champion for ending the HIV and AIDS epidemic,” Griffin said. “Secretary Clinton’s meeting today with advocates underscores her commitment to do everything she can to help people living with and affected by HIV, and to work with us to end the epidemic and the continued stigma around HIV.”
The agreement to meet with HIV/AIDS advocates was a result of letters sent to each of the presidential candidates in the aftermath of Clinton’s controversial remarks earlier this year praising President and Nancy Reagan for their efforts on HIV/AIDS. Clinton has apologized twice for those remarks, but never explained why she made them in the first place.
Among the more than 70 signers of the letters were the New York-based Gay Men’s Health Crisis, ACT UP New York, the National Black Justice Coalition, NMAC, Human Rights Campaign, the New York-based health agency Amida Care and the D.C.-based HIV/AIDS advocacy group Housing Works.
Peter Staley, a New York-based HIV activist and meeting participant, said the discussion lasted for more than an hour and “started a process that we think is going to achieve some historic promises from a presidential candidate during this election.”
“She made very clear to us that she doesn’t like making promises that she can’t keep, but she was very welcoming that we were bringing these ideas and she wanted to continue to discuss them in the month ahead,” Staley said.
The next step for HIV activists, Staley said, is meeting with her senior policy staff to convince her to adopt the promises, which he said he’s “hopeful” she will make as part of her campaign.
The candidate agreed to take part in the meeting days before the crucial New York Democratic primary, which Clinton won over her rival for the Democratic nomination, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), by 16 points in what was considered a decisive victory.
Clinton has made confronting HIV/AIDS, which affects an estimated 1.2 million people in the United States, a component of her presidential campaign.
After apologizing for praising Nancy Reagan on HIV/AIDS, Clinton wrote an op-ed outlining a plan to confront the disease, which includes increased HIV and AIDS research and investment; expanding access to PrEP, especially for at-risk populations; reforming state HIV criminalization laws and encouraging Republican governors to accept Medicaid expansion.
Sanders also agreed to meet HIV activists in the days before the New York primary, but cancelled days before the meeting was scheduled to take place. The campaign didn’t response to further inquiries and phone calls, HIV/AIDS activists said.
After the meeting with Clinton, Staley said the Sanders campaign made a phone call to apologize for break down in communications and reschedule the meeting for May 25 in California, likely somewhere in the Bay Area near San Francisco.
The campaign for presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has told activists he will schedule a meeting with HIV/AIDS activists after the campaign hires a policy staff, according to activists.
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