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MAJOR UNDER-REPORTED VICTORIES TO BE DISCUSSED AT ACT UP "HIDDEN HISTORIES" CONFERENCE

 

Many lifesaving victories, won by ACT UP/NY and other activists with combinations of rallies, civil disobedience, testimony, media work, lobbying, and coalition-building, will be discussed at this conference. To cite just 4 of the most significant:

  1. Greatly expanding global AIDS treatment access. One of ACT UP/NY's greatest successes was playing a key role, along with ACT UP/Philadelphia, in building a broad coalition of AIDS advocacy groups and physicians - now an 18-year-old international advocacy organization called Health GAP (Global Access Project). Working with allies worldwide, particularly the South African Treatment Action Campaign, as well as groups in Thailand, Brazil, and the European Union, Health GAP won funding for aid programs and changes in government patent policies that have provided lifesaving AIDS medications – mostly low-cost generic drugs -- to over 17 million people with HIV in poor countries throughout the Global South (according to the World Health Organization).

  2. Establishing needle-exchange/harm reduction programs. Many current and former drug users and community activists have worked to legalize and fund needle-exchanges and other harm reduction programs in New York State, nationwide, and globally. While these efforts began before ACT UP/NY's involvement, the group's high-profile civil disobedience dramatized the issue and won a major court victory based on the necessity of needle exchange to stem the AIDS epidemic among injection drug users. As the scope of issues impacting drug users became more visible, ACT UP chapters across the country played a major role in national coalition efforts addressing such issues as decriminalization/ legalization, the prison-industrial complex system, access to effective and appropriate drug treatment, and a campaign forcing the Clinton Administration to admit that science supported the AIDS-reduction power of needle-exchange, even though it still refused to fund such programs. Building on the histories of women who self-identified as having had an abortion and the visibility of HIV+/PWA self- advocacy, current and former drug users (ACT UP members among them) began stepping forward to create drug user unions that expanded the dialogue, demanding the right to directly influence or create drug policy and harm reduction programs, including overdose prevention and reversal education, that have saved and will save thousands of lives of drug users and their loved ones.

  3. Correcting inaccurate AIDS-related science and definitions to include women. The National ACT UP Women's Caucus led a four-year campaign by a broad coalition demanding that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control broaden the official definition of AIDS to cover HIV-related illnesses that particularly affect women and injection drug users. They were largely successful, and further pressure, including a lawsuit, forced to the Social Security Administration to grant disability benefits to that broader group of people with AIDS. In addition, the Caucus's efforts with others resulted in the formation of a first-ever, women- focused research committee within the National Institutes of Health (NIH), pressuring them to conduct research into how HIV drugs work in HIV-positive women’s bodies.  The Food and Drug Administration began to recommend that pharmaceutical drug research include recruitment and analyses of the effectiveness and side effects of HIV treatments in women. As a result, major obstacles to women in enrolling in clinical trials – not just for AIDS drugs but any drugs – were dismantled.

  4. Expanding rights to affordable health insurance for New York State residents. In the early-to-mid 1990s, ACT UP/NY built a coalition with other disease groups (“New Yorkers for Accessible Health Coverage”) that successfully protested and lobbied to pass laws that guarantee every resident the right to purchase health insurance at the same price, regardless of gender, age, occupation, or a "pre-existing condition." The law also included other consumer protections, many of which were incorporated in the federal Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) in 2010. ACT UP also has a long history of advocating for universal health care, and in particular for a single-payer national health insurance program for all US and/or New York residents. During the early part of the Clinton administration, several ACT UP chapters and their HIV/AIDS advocacy allies were key local and national leaders of multi-constituency coalitions seeking to push a comprehensive health care reform bill through Congress, ultimately to no avail at that time, but setting the stage for later battles that won gains.