Students Mobilizing Against the AIDS Crisis

By Raj Panjabi
Health & Human Rights Correspondent

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

April 21, 2003

On April 7, 2003, over 200 medical and undergraduate students from over 40 states gathered on Capitol Hill for a Day of Education and Action on Global AIDS- the largest effort of this kind ever - to urge Congress to make good on President Bush's $15 billion funding pledge to fight the global pandemic. The students, representing, "Students Mobilizing Against the Crisis of AIDS Coalition" (SMAC AIDS Coalition), met with over 250 members of the House of Representatives and the Senate and their staff.

"Never before have so many future physicians and future professionals joined together to speak in a unified voice. This is our future and it is our crisis. We are now all AIDS doctors. This is an unprecedented coalition of healers committed to ending the most villainous health crisis known to human kind," said Minesh Shah, a third year medical student representing the American Medical Student Association. "Congressman Hyde's AIDS comprehensive bill should be backed immediately and the Senate should follow suit,"

At a press conference in Washington, prior to their Congressional meetings, hundreds of students, the majority wearing medical white coats and flanked by dozens of AIDS quilt panels designed by fellow students from medical and public health schools from the across the country, chanted "Our Future, Our Crisis, Fight Global AIDS."

Dr. Garth Graham, a medical resident from Massachusetts General Hospital and a board member of Physicians for Human Rights, the coordinating organization of Health Action AIDS said, "Between the time President Bush announced his $15 billion commitment a few months ago and now, over 500,000 have died from AIDS, close to one million have been infected, and over 100,000 kids have been made orphans." Graham continued, "We are interested in supporting members of Congress who support an annual US contribution of $3.5 billion that includes prevention and treatment programs; and a $1.7 billion annual contribution to the Global Fund for AIDS, TB and Malaria, funding for best health practices to fight AIDS - for safe sex, condoms and abstinence; and funding for lowest-cost medication and continued outreach and education efforts to prevent the disease."

Longtime AIDS activist Dr. Joia Mukherjee, Medical Director of Partners In Health, in an impassioned call to action said, "We are here today because the AIDS crisis is more than a pandemic. It is a crisis that has reached cataclysmic proportions that can only be fought with a comprehensive strategy that includes a broad range of prevention and treatment techniques. We know what needs to be done. This is a code alert. It is an emergency. And it cannot be ignored."

In solidarity with the students, rock star and AIDS activist Bono wrote a statement read by Dr. Graham, calling upon President Bush to live up to his commitment made a few months ago, ' a historic promise to treat 2 million people in Africa and prevent 7 million Africans from becoming infected." Bono continued, "Together we will fight this disease and we will not stop until humanity is freed from this scourge."

Amnesty International's Cara Henry said, "The AIDS crisis is a human rights crisis. Every individual deserves the right to adequate health care, including access to AIDS prevention and treatment programs."

Founded in 2002, Students Mobilizing against the Crisis of AIDS (SMAC AIDS) is a national coalition of health professional and student groups representing a collective voice on advocacy for addressing Global AIDS. Members of the SMAC AIDS Coalition include: Amnesty International, American Medical Students Association (AMSA), International Federation of Medical Students' Associations - USA (IFMSA-USA), Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), Student Global AIDS Campaign (SGAC) and Student National Medical Association (SNMA).

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