Sunday, July 13, 2003

AIDS as a Test of American Compassion

The following editorial appears in today's New York Times:

President Bush's successful trip to Africa this week is emblematic of a larger journey. As a presidential candidate, Mr. Bush was dismissive of Africa's importance to American interests. Now he has become only the third American president, and the first Republican, to make an extended visit to sub-Saharan Africa. Over five days in five countries, he addressed a variety of important themes: the cruel legacy of slavery, the current crises in Liberia and Zimbabwe, and most important, the challenge of AIDS and America's commitment to helping Africa fight it with treatment and prevention programs that can save millions of lives.

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.


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.

While I share the Times' concern about the effort by Republican congressmen to cut funding for Bush's AIDS initiative, I am not so sure that the intention of bypassing the United Nations is such a bad idea. Let's face it, the UN's record on these matters is pretty abysmal, and its' administrators are often sorely lacking in accountability.