USA Today, October 8, 2004
In Vice-Presidential Debate,
an AIDS Question Without an Answer
Gwen Ifill's most important question went unanswered
Tuesday night. The PBS journalist, who moderated
the vice presidential debate, had the courage
and forethought to raise perhaps the most significant
question of the entire discussion for millions
of black women, herself included. Ifill articulated
in a few moments what many of us have been
screaming for the past four years. More than
40 million Americans heard her question:
"Mr. Vice President, I want to talk to you
about AIDS, and not about AIDS in China or
Africa, but AIDS right here in this country,
where black women between the ages of 25 and
44 are 13 times more likely to die of the disease
than their counterparts. What should the government's
role be in helping to end the growth of this
Vice President Cheney acknowledged that he was
unaware of that statistic, and neither candidate
provided an adequate answer. But the world
is now aware of what the White House and most
Americans didn't know - an AIDS epidemic is
ravaging black women in this country. Yet little
or no credible, realistic or effective response
has come out of this administration.
But considering Sen. John Edwards' answer - or
the lack of a coherent one - and from my talks
recently with black women, there is little
confidence that a Kerry- Edwards administration
would do any more.
These facts, representing real lives, can enlighten
the presidential candidates before tonight's
Of the AIDS cases in 2002 among women
and girls older than 13 in the USA, 67% were
Women made up 26% of all AIDs cases in
2002, compared with 7% in 1985. It is estimated
that 7,300 black women test positive each year
for HIV in the U.S.
68% of the infections among black women
are through heterosexual contact - as some
black men engage in homosexual acts "on
the down low," then infect their unwitting
partners. The other major factor in the spread
of the disease is drug use.
AIDS is leaving a trail of orphans. The
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
has even cited "outbreaks" of AIDS
on several black college campuses.
Blacks must lead this charge, mobilizing our
sororities, fraternities and business and corporate
sectors to demand an appropriate response.
And black women should steer any government
initiative that follows.
Our vote is the ultimate megaphone, of course.
But before we speak on Nov. 2, we must be heard
today. Ifill provided the question. It's up
to the rest of us to make sure that we receive
Bonnie Marshall is founder and CEO of the Global
Initiative on AIDS, which helps orphans and
homeless children. She is an internationally
renowned AIDS activist.
<< USA Today -- 10/8/04 >>
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