Clinton Not Following Through On AIDS Pledges, Activists Say
By Eileen O'Connor/CNN
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, July 3) -- In a graduation speech at Morgan State University in May 1997, President Bill Clinton challenged Americans "to commit ourselves to developing AIDS vaccine within the next decade."
But more than a year later, the vaccine project still lacks a director. And many AIDS activists say that is typical of adminstration policy -- a good start but a disappointing finish on a number of fronts, including research, prevention and expanding Medicaid to cover new drugs used to treat HIV.
Even the president's own AIDS czar, Sandy Thurman, admits that fighting government inertia can be difficult.
"The behavior change among politicians and decision makers is no different than behavior change among those we're trying to reach out in the streets," she says. "It takes time, and it takes a lot of reinforcement."
In the first years of the Clinton administration, money for prevention efforts was increasing 10 percent a year. But it has since leveled off, with little or no annual increase.
Dr. Bruce Rashbaum, a doctor who treats AIDS patients and is himself living with HIV, is also critical of Clinton for caving in to critics and refusing to allow the use of federal funds for needle exchange programs, which even the White House concedes cut the rate of HIV infection among intravenous drug users.
"He won't be recognized as one who really stood for what he believed in with fervor. He waffles. And yes, he makes promises and then doesn't carry through with them, " Rashbaum says.
Yet, Rashbaum has also been on the winning end of the administration's policies, benefiting from increased research money that helped develop the new drugs that are keeping him alive.
Still, some of those involved in the fight against AIDS are sending Clinton the message that he is missing an opportunity by not pushing harder to fulfill the goals he has set.
"This could be your legacy -- that you were the president who determined that this disease would be stopped dead in its tracks in America and really put your shoulder to this wheel," says Jim Graham, director of Washington's Whitman-Walker Clinic.