Martin O'Malley Commits to AIDS Treatment Targets on Campaign Trail

On World AIDS day, Michael Novack, Team Coordinator of the PIH Engage team in Charlottesvile, VA had the opportunity to ask former Maryland Governor and presidential candidate Martin O'Malley about his commitment to global health equity. A few days later, Egle Malinauskaite, Advocacy Lead of the PIH Engage team in Chicago, IL, approached him at an event at DePaul University. They questioned whether Governor O'Malley would commit to leading an effort to get 30 million people on AIDS treatment by 2020, enough to end the epidemic by 2030. Governor O'Malley joined many others on the campaign trail who have verbally made this commitment. The first step to endorsing the presidential pledge for a healthier, more secure, and AIDS-free world.

See how Michael and Egle recount their experiences:

Michael Novack: Meeting former Governor Martin O'Malley at University of Virginia

Michael Novack, Erica Miller, and Governor Martin O'Malley

Michael Novack, Team Coordinator, and Erica Miller, Advocacy Lead, pictured with Governor Martin O'Malley at University of Virginia.

After being tipped off by my incomparable advocacy lead, Erica Miller, that Governor Martin O'Malley was coming to Charlottesville, I knew that my team couldn't miss such a close pass with a presidential contender. 

Mr. O'Malley spoke at the UVA's Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy on Tuesday, December 1st. He spoke to a standing-room crowd of undergraduates, law students, and policy graduate students, all gathered in an oak-paneled reception room. Mr. O'Malley's speech was both logical and rousing, initially outlining his tenure as Baltimore mayor when he used data-driven policy to maximize city efficiency and equity, but soon exuded great passion as he rolled up his sleeves and discussed income gaps, climate change, and gun crime.
While Mr. O'Malley was characteristically strong on his commitment to climate policy, I was disappointed that neither health access nor AIDS relief were discussed. After all, he was speaking to us on Global AIDS Day. When he opened up the floor to questions, I immediately raised my hand. When none of the first several questioners mentioned health policy, I began to see this as an opportunity to raise a hugely relevant issue. Unfortunately, since Erica and I were standing in the back, we were not close enough to the roving microphones to publicly voice our question about AIDS funding.
However, afterwards, there was an opportunity to meet-and-greet the candidate near the podium. We waited about 30 minutes for our chance to ask our question. In the meantime we enjoyed a conversation with fellow students about the state of the race (yes, of course discussing Trump's latest antics) and soon enough we were shaking hands with the candidate:
Mike: Thank you for an excellent discussion Governor O'Malley, I'm Michael and this is Erica, we represent Partners In Health, which advocates for health equity. I wanted to ask you a question about healthcare because it is World Aid's Day.
At this point, the picture is being snapped and I know my time is limited.
O'Malley: I saw that it was World AIDS Day earlier today, thank you for bringing up healthcare. A recent article was written in the New England Journal of Medicine about the reforms during my governorship that highlights our focus on "well-care" and maximizing efficiency through primary care.
Mike: Very interesting. I work in a hospital and I believe that most of the spending we do could be averted through "well-care" and that misuse of emergency rooms is a major avoidable cost to society. Listen, I was wondering if you would be willing to commit to getting the number of people on lifesaving AIDS treatment to 30 million by 2020?

Governor O’Malley:  I’m not sure – what’s the cost to the annual budget?

Me: An additional $300 million to get funding back on track.

As Mike later realized, this number was based on FY 16 spending, and it will cost much more to achieve the goal of 30 million people on AIDS treatment by 2020. 

Governor O’Malley: Sure, sure we can do that.

We have a handshake and the photo-op quickly concluded.

Satisfied with O'Malley's conversation, commitment, and our great picture with the former Maryland Governor, Erica and I high-fived as we left the room. Although we did not have a chance to videotape his response, I feel that we made an important contribution by bringing up health equity in a high-level conversation which had nearly forgotten it.

Egle Malinauskaite: Meeting former Governor Martin O'Malley at DePaul University

Just days later, the Chicago Team Advocacy Lead, Egle Malinauskaite followed up with Governor O'Malley at an event at DePaul University, and had a very similar interaction. Governor O'Malley once again affirmed his commitment to this goal. Check out her recount here: 

 Egle meeting Martin O'Malley

Egle Malinauskaite (right; black jacket) asks Governor O'Malley for an effort to get 30 million people on AIDS treatment by 2020.

My experience birddogging Gov. O'Malley happened at a small immigration-focused private event at DePaul University hosted by the Illinois Business Immigrant Coalition (IBIC) as part of their Presidential Candidates Forum to Support Comprehensive Immigration Reform. I was invited as an undocumented student to ask him about stance on higher education access and funding opportunities for undocumented students, which allowed me to then approach him afterwards and engage with him about global health.

When the forum finished, I joined as everyone flocked to Gov. O'Malley for a picture and to ask more questions. I thanked him again for answering my previous question and expressed to him my passion for global health, specifically funding for PEPFAR. Although I wasn't able to get a video recording of the exchange, I have attached pictures below and here is a transcript of the exchange:

Egle: "Will you commit to leading an effort to get 30 million people on lifesaving AIDS treatment by 2020?" 

Gov. O'Malley: "Yes and that would mean more money?" 

Egle: "$450 million more for PEPFAR up through 2020."

Gov. O'Malley: "Yes, I can do that..." 

I didn't hear much after that as others rushed in for pictures, but I think it's important to note Gov. O'Malley did not hesitate when answering my questions about PEPFAR even though he was at an immigration-focused event.

The beauty of these two events is that they happened so close together. When we're able to ask candidates questions about their commitment to global health in two different states during the same 1-2 week period, we're starting to apply some pressure. This was the work of 2 teams, in total a handful of individuals. Now imagine if all of our teams joined in for these kinds of events. Imagine that Governor O'Malley is asked this question in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, New York, Washington, Maine, and everywhere else on the campaign trail.

If you're wondering where Mike and Egle got their questions from: Always be sure to chat with your team's coach before you go face-to-face with a candidate. But for a ton of ideas on which to build your questions, check out our presidential pledge (and while you're there, endorse it!)


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