Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star: Local residents lobby for AIDS prevention worldwide

FREDERICKSBURG FREE LANCE-STAR, CATHY DYSON

Kim Rudisill was a young adult in the 1980s, when AIDS first made headlines and efforts were made to address the epidemic.

Now a grandmother, she has many friends who have tested positive for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, and is glad they’re able to get the treatment they need.

“They’re healthy and happy, due to the fact they have all medication available to them,” said Rudisill, a former school administrative assistant who lives in Fredericksburg.

She wishes people in other parts of the world, particularly Africa, had access to the same health care. Not only is it the right thing to do, she said, but it also becomes clear that what happens in remote corners of the world hits home when visitors and refugees come to Washington and surrounding localities.

“I don’t think everyone is aware of the impact the global community has on the United States and the state of Virginia in particular,” she said, noting the number of local residents who work in the nation’s capital as well as the retired federal, military and State Department officials who have traveled abroad and then made their homes in the Fredericksburg region.

To share her concerns, Rudisill, Kathleen Hom of Stafford County and about 100 others from across the country participated in the ONE Power Summit on Capitol Hill last week. The ONE Campaign is a global organization focused on ending poverty and preventable disease, particularly in Africa, by 2030.

The activists were asking Congress to support PEPFAR, the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. That’s a global effort that was established in 2003 to combat HIV/AIDS.

Since that time, PEPFAR has saved 25 million lives from HIV/AIDS worldwide, helped 64.7 million people access HIV testing and ensured that more than 5.5 million babies were born HIV-free, according to a news release from the ONE Campaign.

“The United States has invested more than $100 billion in PEPFAR — the largest commitment by any nation to fight a single disease in history,” the news release states.

Rudisill and other activists and delegates want to be sure that commitment doesn’t lapse. She was part of a team that visited the offices of Virginia legislators, including Sen. Tim Kaine, Sen. Mark Warner and Rep. Abigail Spanberger. Being able to discuss concerns with their staff members was a “fabulous” experience, Rudisill said.

“It was almost like preaching to the choir because they are so supportive of PEPFAR and the ONE campaign already,” she said. “We just wanted to reiterate that we still need it.”

Currently, there’s no PEPFAR bill on the table, but the activists wanted to stress their support for it when it comes up again.

Spanberger called PEPFAR, established by President George W. Bush, an example of “extraordinary U.S. global leadership,” and said she’s heard from constituents repeatedly about it.

“Since arriving in Congress, I have heard directly from community members, faith leaders and advocacy organizations throughout the Commonwealth about the need to support PEPFAR,” she said.

Hom said it was a wonderful experience to visit offices of legislators and to work with the ONE Campaign, which “gives power to regular everyday people so we can collectively encourage real and substantial change.”

“Voices in the halls of Congress” from people like Rudisill and Hom bring home the message of what’s important to them as Americans and constituents, said Caroline Rourke, senior communications coordinator with the ONE Campaign.

Rudisill believes local residents may not realize how global the Fredericksburg community has become. When she worked as an administrative assistant with the Fredericksburg City Schools — she recently took a leave of absence to care for her 3-year-old grandson — she saw for herself that America, and more specifically the local region, is still a melting pot.

“I saw the number of people who were coming here from other countries who live here now and it’s because of the opportunity offered in the state and nation’s capital,” she said.

One of Rudisill’s goals is to start a ONE Campaign chapter at the University of Mary Washington because during the summit, the first she’d attended, she met a lot of college students passionate about pushing for change on a worldwide level. They shared her belief that health care and opportunities shouldn’t be determined by where a person lives.

“I feel like if everyone was aware how other people in the world are forced to live, and what they’re born into . . . there are so many people who care who would get involved and make a difference,” she said.

More information about the ONE Campaign is available at one.org.

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