The history of the AIDS epidemic is a history of people demanding their right to health care. It is a history of people who, when scorned by their governments, stood up and fought for the right to live and live with respect and dignity. Through these efforts, we have overcome stigma and discrimination, and transformed the relationship between patients and their health care providers, transformed the drug development process and, most important, forced governments around the world to commit to providing treatment and prevention for all who need it. There is still much to be done to stop the AIDS epidemic, but the progress made to date has been substantial, indeed, historic. The AIDS response has served as a catalyst to promote human rights and gender equality and has inspired patient-led movements in cancer, tuberculosis, sexual and reproductive health and beyond.
In July 2012, the AIDS response can once again serve as a catalyst to transform global health. For the first time in over 20 years, the International AIDS Conference will be held in the United States. This is due to the tireless work of AIDS advocates who successfully fought to lift a discriminatory ban against people living with HIV entering into the US. Over 25,000 people from around the world will come to Washington, DC, to discuss the AIDS pandemic and will do so in the middle of a US Presidential election in which the government's responsibility to ensure health care access will be a central issue.
For AIDS advocates, the need to build a broad coalition is greater than ever. While we must ensure that our specific agenda for HIV treatment and prevention continues to move forward, advocacy strategies that fail to link our AIDS agenda to a broader agenda of health and human rights for all are becoming progressively less effective. We are increasingly forced into a position where "disease groups" are pitted against each other demanding funds. We are told that the "economic crisis" makes it impossible to support all these needs. The crisis is, as it has always been one of political will and misplaced priorities. We cannot allow our movement to be placed in competition against other communities, who are all asking for the same thing as we are - the right to health care, the right to health security. If we allow ourselves to perpetuate this competition, we will lose.
With the AIDS conference as a backdrop, let us build a coalition like never before. It is time for people with AIDS to stand up and say that it is not enough to demand HIV treatment for a woman with AIDS in Alabama while her mother is dying of hypertension and her children suffer from asthma. It is not enough to demand HIV treatment for children in Uganda, only to let them die of malaria, or for drug users in India, who then die of hepatitis. Let us join together to say that universal access to health - with its essential linkage with food security, education, protection from violence and enforcement of human rights - lies at the core of what we expect and demand from our societies. Let us say that these demands lie at the heart of what freedom and liberty really mean. And let us acknowledge that when we stand together, we are stronger.
On Saturday, July 22nd, I want to join a million people at the Lincoln Memorial. Let AIDS activists join forces with health activists from cancer, geriatrics, child health, disability rights, mental health, women's health, harm reduction, with labor unions, faith-based organizations, and immigrants rights groups, with GLBT rights activists, with sex workers, with teachers, students, and parents. Let those million people be joined by millions in similar actions all over the world - in Johannesburg, in Lagos, in Delhi, in Beijing, in Moscow, in Mexico City, in Rio de Janiero, in Cairo. Now is the time.