A group of Yale AIDS activists, joined by faculty members, Harvard students and activists from New York City, staged a protest on campus yesterday in response to stagnant AIDS funding from the Obama administration.
The students, who received national media attention for heckling Obama at a political rally in Bridgeport in October, organized their protest to coincide with the arrival of Ezekiel Emanuel, a leading White House health adviser who was scheduled to give a lecture to students in Thomas Pogge’s “Global Health Ethics, Politics and Economics” class at the Yale Law School that morning.
“We’re protesting Dr. Emanuel’s visit because he has been a key proponent of shifting global health priorities away from AIDS,” said David Carel ’13, one of the protest’s organizers.
According to statistics provided by Health Gap, an AIDS advocacy group present at the protest, Obama promised to allocate $50 billion to fight global AIDS over the next five years but has only increased annual AIDS funding from $6.6 billion to $6.7 billion. Organizer Gregg Gonsalves ’11 said Emanuel — who publicly advocates funding more inexpensive maternal health initiatives instead of increasing funding for AIDS relief — is a driving force behind flatlined funding for AIDS relief.
“He is flying in the face of what major leaders in public health are saying without having any experience in this field of medicine himself,” Gonsalves said.
The protest began at 9:00 a.m. when Emanuel was scheduled to arrive at the Law School, and continued until his departure at noon. Other group members distributed flyers on Cross Campus.
Emanuel evaded students and entered the building unnoticed, but when the lecture ended protesters followed him from the Law School down Wall Street to Timothy Dwight College, chanting, “Broken promises kill, fund global AIDS” and, “Hey Zeke, whatcha gonna do? Mothers and babies have AIDS too!”
Emanuel ignored the protestors, but Gonsalves said he considers the event a success because several student groups and faculty collaborated on it.
Visiting professor of ethics, politics and economics Nicoli Nattrass protested outside the Law School and marched to Timothy Dwight with the group. Nattrass, an AIDS policy researcher and the director of the AIDS and Society Research Unit at the University of Cape Town, said that in southern African countries with high infection rates, fighting AIDS is a more cost-effective way to save children and young women than are the maternal health projects Emanuel favors. Still, Nattrass said, it is important that students protest for greater AIDS funding.
“U.S. treatment activism has been crucial in driving the international AIDS response,” Nattrass said. “It is truly heartening to see that a new generation of activists is emerging to keep up the fight.”
Harvard senior Marguerite Thorp, a Bridgeport protester and one of three Cantabs at the Law School on Tuesday, said the group is trying to reach members of the Obama administration like Emanuel to ensure that they increase PEPfAR’s budget. If the administration proposes a new federal budget with ample PEPfAR funding, Thorp said the group will target congressmen to help garner support for the budget.
Harvard AIDS activists have held protests on their own campus this year as well. Most recently, a group of 60 students protested when Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis visited campus in September.