More than Words to Fight Aids

More Than Words to Fight AIDS

The New York Times,

December 16, 2002


Earlier this month Colin Powell and Tommy Thompson gathered representatives from 86 countries to lecture them on the importance of political leadership in fighting AIDS. Make AIDS a global priority, said Secretary of State Powell. Invest in global health, implored Health Secretary Thompson. Their message was important and well timed but should have been directed at Washington.

The administration is not blind to the catastrophe. The president and his top officials speak about AIDS in the most apocalyptic terms, and Mr. Powell called the disease a more important challenge than terrorism. But when it comes to financing, urgency vanishes. Mr. Bush is likely to visit Africa next month. He should be carrying with him an AIDS initiative backed with real money.

The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria has just started to give out its first grants and is already broke. As Washington and other donors demanded, the fund has designed a rigorous process and has received dozens of well-designed proposals to fight disease. But it must now tell countries there is no money to finance them. The administration makes much of the fact that the United States, which has pledged $500 million over two years, is the largest donor. But when measured by the size of the economy, it is actually giving half as much as Europe. Washington's contribution needs to be $2.5 billion a year to make a difference.

The administration's showpiece program on AIDS this year was an initiative to combat the transmission of the disease from mothers to babies. That has only served to undercut a better proposal within Congress. Mr. Bush's plan superseded a Senate proposal, backed by Jesse Helms, that would have spent $500 million on these programs. Then the president vetoed the appropriation containing the first year's payment. Politicians lament the tragedy of babies with AIDS, but their concern has so far produced not a cent of new money. And shamefully, on the last day of the Congressional session, Senate Republicans killed a bill agreed on unanimously in the House and Senate that would have provided $4 billion over two years to fight global AIDS.

Administration officials and members of Congress argue that there are other things to spend money on. None are more urgent. The Central Intelligence Agency is warning that AIDS in China, India and Russia, as well as in Africa, is a mounting security threat for the United States. AIDS is already destabilizing Africa. It is a major cause of a hunger crisis now affecting 38 million Africans. The world, and the United States, cannot afford to let Mr. Bush go to Africa without a real plan to put cash behind the administration's statements on AIDS. American officials should not be giving anyone lectures while Washington's response to the major catastrophe of our time remains limited largely to words.


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