The Corner

Student Protester: Obama Shortchanging Pepfar

On Saturday, a group of 50 students interrupted President Obama’s rally with Gov. Deval Patrick in Boston. They wanted to draw attention to Obama’s unfulfilled promise to substantially increase funding for Pepfar, the President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief. Here’s video of the exchange:

Interrupting the president’s rally was rude, but we wanted to hear what the protesters had to say. Yesterday afternoon, one of the protesters, Krishna Prabhu, a senior at Harvard College, responded to some questions from National Review Online via e-mail:

NRO: What exactly were you protesting?

We were protesting the fact that President Obama has broken promises that Candidate Obama made regarding funding for global AIDS treatment.  While Candidate Obama promised to dedicate $50 billion for global AIDS treatment by 2013, including increasing funding by $1 billion of new money every year, President Obama has fallen fall short of that promise (he’s currently funding HIV/AIDS treatment at $6.9 billion per year).  The past two years he has asked Congress for a $0.2 and 0.1 billion increase, respectively, which hardly keeps up with inflation in most African countries.  We wanted to hold the President accountable for these broken promises, since they are literally a matter of life or death. (http://www.pepfar.gov/press/80064.htm)

With regards to President Bush, most analysts from both sides of the aisle applaud him for launching the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), an initiative that spent nearly $19 billion over 5 years and was estimated to have saved 1.2 million lives and supported the treatment of 2.8 million people by the time Obama took office.  Bush did better at making global HIV/AIDS treatment a priority, and is responsible for starting the largest global health initiative in human history.

NRO: What did you think of the president’s reaction?

The president waited to react only after protesters were escorted out of the premises by police officers, not giving protesters a chance to respond to his comments.  His response was that Republicans would cut AIDS funding and that his administration had increased AIDS funding.  On the first point, it’s tough to agree with him.  PEPFAR was reauthorized for $48 billion over 5 years in 2008 by Congress and had significant bipartisan support.  Republicans and Democrats have been supportive of PEPFAR because it has proven to be effective.

As for the second response, while it is technically true that funding for global AIDS has increased under Obama, it’s also true that this last year (FY 2011) he’s only increased funding by a tenth of what he promised (he promised a $1 billion increase).  To us, fulfilling 10% of a promise is still a broken promise.  Obama did not respond to our claims — he instead touted his nominal increase of the fund.

NRO: Do you think a rally for Gov. Patrick was the proper forum for your protest?

This is an opportune time to hold the President accountable for his broken promises.  As he is emerging from the beltway, he gives himself more opportunities to be receptive to criticism from his constituents.  We considered the rally an appropriate setting in which to call attention to his broken promises on global AIDS because of the mass human suffering that is associated with underfunding global AIDS treatment.  We want this President to hear that people are unhappy with him for many reasons, which include his funding levels for global HIV/AIDS treatment.

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