|A Test of American Compassion|
The New York Times, July 12, 2003 - Late Edition - Final
President Bush's successful trip to Africa this week is emblematic of alarger journey. As a presidential candidate, Mr. Bush was dismissive ofAfrica's importance to American interests. Now he has become only thethird American president, and the first Republican, to make an extendedvisit to sub-Saharan Africa. Over five days in five countries, headdressed a variety of important themes: the cruel legacy of slavery,the current crises in Liberia and Zimbabwe, and most important, thechallenge of AIDS and America's commitment to helping Africa fight itwith treatment and prevention programs that can save millions of lives.
A Test of American Compassion
Nearly 30 million Africans are now infected with the virus that causes AIDS. Almost 60 percent of the infected adults are women. More than 3 million African children are also infected, and more than 11 million have lost parents to the disease. Cash-starved health systems cannot cope. Four million H.I.V. and AIDS sufferers in Africa need treatment, but only 50,000 currently get it.
Mr. Bush has promised to spend $15 billion over the next five years, two-thirds of it new money, to fight H.I.V. and AIDS in especially hard-hit countries, 12 of them African. His goal is to provide treatment for two million people and prevent another seven million from becoming infected. But even if Mr. Bush's goals are met, infection rates will continue to climb, and more than half of those needing treatment will still not be able to get it.
Every dollar of Mr. Bush's program is needed, along with equally ambitious efforts by other wealthy countries. Yet Republican lawmakers in Congress are trying to make sharp cuts in next year's spending. Mr. Bush needs to fight for the $3 billion annual installment Congress voted in May.
The money must be spent as effectively as possible. That means applying lessons from successful programs already in place, like Uganda's pervasive public education efforts, which have reduced infection rates by two-thirds in seven years. It will also require overriding patent restrictions where necessary to purchase cheaper generic drugs, and resisting pressures from religious conservatives to emphasize abstinence at the expense of other effective forms of prevention. Without greater economic and legal rights, women are often powerless to resist men's coercive demands for unsafe sex.
Regrettably, only $200 million a year will be channeled through the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, set up by the United Nations. This organization is already up and running smoothly, with many promising proposals but not enough funds. It seems a waste of time and money to set up a parallel bureaucracy when America's AIDS dollars could be saving additional lives today.
Last week, Mr. Bush nominated Randall Tobias, a former head of Eli Lilly & Company, the pharmaceutical firm, to direct the new AIDS program. If confirmed, he will be responsible for carrying out America's commitment to sustained and generous help in the battle against AIDS, a disease Mr. Bush rightly characterized as "the deadliest enemy Africa has ever faced."
Originally published in the New York Times, July 12, 2003. Reprinted with permission.