“ACTION!” he yelled. “Plan!” the crowd responded,jutting their freshly painted signs into the air.
“When?” he yelled back. “Now!” they screamed.
And when the Zimbabwe native turned on the stage in Lafayette Park to point at the 28-foot tall red ribbon hanging from the front of the White House,the crowd at the World AIDS Day rally listened.
“We don't want to see just a red ribbon at the White House,” Bomba said. “We want decisive change in policy.”
The 100 or so others in the crowd – mostly students from George Washington University – answered with hoots and hollers.
What Bomba,who works with the advocacy group Africa Action,wants to see is the removal of abstinence education requirements from the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief,the legislation that funds HIV/AIDS programs across the globe. He also would like the $15 million annual budget doubled.
Speaker after speaker demanded the administration face the truth about HIV and AIDS and begin using science-based prevention methods at home and abroad.
“The Bush White House does not seem to understand that abstinence-only prevention does not work. The evidence is there,” said Daniel Murphy,a third-year student at the New York College of Osteopathic Medicine and American Medical Student Association legal director.
By the end of 2003,between 1 million and 1.2 million Americans were estimated to be living with HIV or AIDS. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that another 40,000 Americans become infected with HIV each year. The agency also estimates that at least 25 percent of those who have HIV are unaware they are infected.
The protest comes on the eve of World AIDS Day,conceived by health officials in 1988. It aims to fight the spread of the disease and help those who have contracted it.
Worldwide,about 33 million people live with HIV/AIDS,according to the United Nations. The U.N. previously had reported 40 million people with the disease but scrolled back its numbers this month after a more accurate analysis. Almost 70 percent of people with the disease live in sub-Saharan Africa.
The protest was also spurred by a report released Monday by health officials in Washington showing that D.C. has one of the highest rates of HIV infection of any city in the country.
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton,D-D.C.,also called on the president to fight the “global pandemic,” as well as the one in his backyard.
“Stop trying to boss the District of Columbia and the people of the world,” she said,referring to the abstinence program. “Respect the sovereignty of the countries living with HIV and AIDS.”
Speaking at Calvary United Methodist Church in Mount Airy,Md.,President George W. Bush said his administration has not received enough credit for the good work it does fighting the virus.
“Every year,American taxpayers send billions of their hard-earned dollars overseas to save the lives of people they have never met,” he said,according to a transcript.
Bush pointed to outcomes to show how successful his drive has been: The number of people in sub-Saharan Africa receiving treatment for AIDS has gone from 50,000 five years ago to nearly 1.4 million now,he said.
His administration continues to defend the use of abstinence policies.
“We need to accept the truth,” he said. “Abstinence works for some,but it doesn't work for all.”
Although many at the rally would agree with Bush that AIDS could be defeated,about 40 of the protesters marched from Lafayette Park to the front gates of the White House,adorned with stickers,buttons and carrying signs and shouting.
“Bush is bananas – B-A-N-A-N-A-S. He won't give no money for H-I-V-A-I-D-S,” they chanted.
After several warnings,U.S. Park Police officers began arresting the 40 demonstrators. They were charged with parading without a permit.
Since 1981,when the CDC began tracking the number of AIDS-related deaths,more than 530,000 Americans have died from the disease. The CDC estimates that 20 million people have died worldwide in that time,2.5 million of them last year,mostly in Africa.
When the disease gained public attention in the late 1970s and early 1980s,officials referred to as the “gay plague” because it spread quickly through gay communities. In 2005,male-to-male sexual contact was still responsible for about 49 percent of infections. High-risk heterosexual contact accounted for 32 percent of new infections,according to the CDC.
And though precautionary measures have made blood transfusions and organ donation much safer,four people in a Chicago hospital learned recently they contracted the disease after receiving organs from an HIV-positive man. A donor group said it was the first occurrence in 13 years.