On the eve of a meeting of rich country leaders in Canada, President Bush has brought out a “new initiative” promising $500 million to prevent transmission of HIV/AIDS from mothers to children. Intended to stave off the embarrassment of coming empty-handed to a summit trumpeted as focusing on Africa, the White House initiative is in fact a cynical move to derail more effective action against AIDS.
With a bipartisan congressional coalition poised to approve an additional $500 million or more in AIDS funding for fiscal year 2002, President Bush first put the squeeze on Republican senators to cut the total back to $200 million, half of which could go to the Global AIDS Fund and half for bilateral programs to cut mother-to-child transmission. Then he offered his plan, which claims the $200 million as his own while only promising to ask Congress for another $300 million two years from now. His plan would allow no additional money for the Global Fund.
The administration justifies the smaller amounts and the go-slow timetable by the need to first show “results.” But, with 8,000 people around the world dying of AIDS daily (some 6,000 of them in sub-Saharan Africa), the results of Bush’s stalling action are crystal-clear: more dead people.
Demonstrably successful anti-AIDS programs run by governments, nongovernmental organizations, and mission hospitals are starved for funds. Fewer than 2% of AIDS sufferers in sub-Saharan Africa, including pregnant mothers, have access to anti-retroviral drugs that can save lives. The Global AIDS Fund, which is estimated to require some $10 billion a year, is already out of funds less than halfway through its first year, while the U.S. has supplied less than a tenth of the $3.5 billion a year that would be its fair share.
When the issue is saving African lives, the administration says “Let’s wait.” In contrast, there is no hesitation in shelling out more than $5 billion a year in new subsidies for rich U.S. farmers, or more than $6 billion a year to pay for suspending the estate taxes on the richest Americans.
President Bush has also recently announced a trip to Africa for next year and $20 million a year for African education (beginning in 2004). But public relations gestures and budget shell games do not save lives. The American public–and Congress–need to tell the President to change course.