Making AIDS Political

Today, the tools and resources to fight AIDS effectively exist; however, lacking are political and financial commitments to make sure the tools and resources are directed to where they are needed.

A genuine political will to fight the epidemic at all levels, alongside an allocation of resources that are consistently monitored and accounted for is critical to an effective AIDS response. Political advocacy targeted at governments of the most AIDS-affected countries is a key but missing factor in the overall response to the epidemic. 

In the absence of strong and credible political efforts to raise the profile of AIDS, governments, at best, continue to maintain or adopt policies that are counterproductive, and at worst, pay lip service to an effective response to the epidemic. 

Evidence shows that in countries (e.g., Thailand, South Africa, Brazil, USA) where AIDS civil society organizations have been politically motivated to confront their governments, there has been greater and positive response to the epidemic. 

In many countries with critical AIDS situations, bad governance characterized by a lack of political will, unaccountability, neglect, nepotism, corruption, incompetence, moribund health systems and insufficient health workforce continue to fuel the epidemic. 

Because of a combination of lack of political skills to engage governments, “professionalization” of AIDS work or funding constraints, civil society organizations in these contexts have tended to stay clear of political advocacy. 

As a result, there has been little to no impact on the epidemic, as government resource allocation does not reflect the myriad needs of the AIDS affected communities. Ensuring an equitable distribution of resources, particularly for those most in need demands more than rhetorical commitments.

It requires governments and civil society to work together to create the social and political will for translating a vision of access to AIDS services into lived experience of peoples’ day-to-day lives. 

AIDS political advocacy can create accountability and increase political will, limit neglect and nepotism, and possibly even force the replacement of corrupt or incompetent officials. However, given the historical lack of resources and, in many cases, only recent moves toward democratic civic participation, the advocacy capacity of HIV infected and affected populations must be strengthened and supported. 

Ensuring that advocacy is firmly grounded in accurate information regarding local priorities, opportunities, and challenges in AIDS affected countries is essential for ensuring that the needs and experiences of everyone, specifically, poor and marginalized populations, are comprehensively met and with full respect to their human rights and dignity. 

In countries where there are few people with the cultural assets needed for advocacy work, and where the personal risk associated with AIDS political advocacy is significant, the only way to attract and retain advocacy workers for periods of time consistent with campaign success is to provide them appropriate compensation, training and working conditions and a travel and communications budget. The development of partnerships is essential to building a groundswell of support to maintain AIDS high on the political agenda.

No single organization can effectively fight AIDS alone or in isolation from the context and actors that make up the global AIDS advocacy movement. Aligning issues, movements and agendas requires deliberate steps, planning, and dedicated time and resources to ensure synergy and mutual gain.

In addition, it demands a culture of trust and accountability among advocacy partners, including the belief that there is enough work and resources for everyone, and that competition and lack of coordination reflect a major inefficiency and waste of precious, needed resources.