In what its supporters hailed as a milestone in the U.S. commitment to fighting the global spread of HIV/AIDS, the Senate approved by voice vote a five-year, $15 billion anti-AIDS package in the pre-dawn hours of May 15th.
In a key victory for President George W. Bush and anti-AIDS activists, the U.S. House of Representatives Thursday approved a five-year, $15 billion package to fight HIV/AIDS in 14 African and Caribbean nations. The bill, which would provide $3 billion each year beginning in 2004 to some of the world’s worst-affected countries, provides that up to $1 billion in each annual installment should go the cash-strapped Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria.
In his proposed “Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief” announced during last month’s State of the Union Address, President Bush promised, among other things, “a comprehensive plan [to] prevent seven million new HIV infections.” International organizations working to prevent the spread of HIV and improve women’s health worldwide met the announcement with a mixture of hope and skepticism. Hope because prevention is critical to reducing the toll of HIV worldwide. Skepticism because sound AIDS prevention depends on effective promotion of safe sex, an obvious area of contention for the Bush administration.
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.
Against the backdrop of September 11th terrorist attacks in the U.S., the anthrax attacks in late 2001 raised highly controversial issues related to intellectual property rights. Just a few months earlier, the world had witnessed heated debates on the patent controversy when the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers’ Association of South Africa (PMASA), a body representing South African subsidiaries of 39 drug transnational corporations (TNCs), took the South African government to court to prevent it from importing cheaper versions of patented drugs for patients suffering from Acquired Immuno Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). However, under tremendous pressure generated by health activists and concerned groups around the world, the drug TNCs unconditionally dropped the lawsuit against the South African government.
The international community appears poised to intervene to end the devastating effects of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, especially in Africa where, according to the United Nations Agency for HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), more than 25 million Africans live with the virus or are dying of AIDS. Few infected Africans have access to life saving anti-HIV/AIDS medicines that have transformed the disease from a feared to a manageable chronic infection in the West. Through a combination of street protests, sophisticated policy reviews, media exposes, and powerful commentaries in the print and electronic media, AIDS activists have forced the issue of access to HIV/AIDS care in developing nations.
We now face, with the global spread of AIDS, a human catastrophe that is beyond history. We have never witnessed anything so devastating. In sub-Saharan Africa, there is a pandemic that threatens to exceed the toll that the Bubonic Plague took on Europe in ushering in the Dark Ages. 23 million people are infected in Sub-Saharan Africa, with new infections coming at the rate of roughly five thousand a day.