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Bush Impedes Aid for Global AIDS Pandemic

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From the radio newsmagazine
Between The Lines
http://www.btlonline.org
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Between the Lines Q&A
A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints
on national and international issues
under-reported in mainstream media
for release Dec. 15, 2003
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Global AIDS Pandemic Spreading at Alarming Rate While Bush Administration Impedes Access to Life-Saving Treatment

Interview with Salih Booker, executive director of Africa Action, conducted by Melinda Tuhus

Listen in RealAudio: http://www.btlonline.org/booker121903.ram

Dec. 1 marked World AIDS Day, and the big news this year was that the government of China has finally publicly acknowledged its AIDS crisis and promised to take steps to combat it. Less than a week before World AIDS Day this year, the U.N. released its annual report on the state of the HIV/AIDS crisis, which revealed that the pandemic is continuing to spread at an alarming rate worldwide. New figures show that more people were infected with HIV, and more people died of AIDS, this year than ever before. Currently, more than 40 million people are living with HIV/AIDS across the globe, with two-thirds of them on the African continent.

Africa Action, a non-governmental organization based in Washington, D.C., organized World AIDS Day events on 20 U.S. university campuses as part of the group's Africa's Right to Health campaign, which seeks to end the social injustices that have given rise to the HIV/AIDS crisis. Africa Action's "Most Wanted" campaign has condemned the Bush administration's policies for failing to improve access to life-saving AIDS treatment.

Between The Lines' Melinda Tuhus spoke with Salih Booker, executive director of Africa Action, about how his organization observed World AIDS Day and their goal of tearing down the obstacles which stand in the way of more progress in combating the AIDS pandemic.

Salih Booker: The main thrust was to add sort of a political thrust to World AIDS Day. Traditionally the day has been a day of remembrance of those fallen to the HIV/AIDS pandemic, and we felt very much that one of the most important ways to mourn the fallen was to fight for the living. We wanted to use the day to point to those who are most responsible as obstacles to the much-accelerated fight against the AIDS pandemic. We targeted George Bush and a number of his key advisers, because he’s made very significant promises about increasing the U.S. role in the fight against AIDS, but he’s been reneging on those promises ever since he’s made them in his State of the Union address in January of this year.

Between The Lines: In what way has he reneged on it? My understanding is that much of the funding has been passed in Congress. Is your understanding that the money has been appropriated but is not going through maybe the channels that you think are the right channels?

Salih Booker: The president made his promise in January 2003. He referred to it as an emergency plan for AIDS relief. And it is indeed an emergency. And yet he asked for no new funding for the entire year of 2003. So here we are at the end of the year, looking at a death toll due to AIDS of almost three million people worldwide, many of whom could have been saved if they’d had access to anti-retroviral treatment. So the first problem is that he didn’t give this initiative the urgency that is required. He promised $15 billion over five years, which works out to $3 billion a year for U.S. funding to fight AIDS. In his budget request that he sent out after his speech, he only asked for $2 billion.

Now the Congress did better than the president. They authorized an annual expenditure of $3 billion a year to fight AIDS, but that’s just the authorization, the Congress actually has to appropriate the money. And in recent weeks, the Congress has provided more than the administration requested. They have prepared to appropriate $2.4 billion for next year, for 2003, which is more than the $2 billion the Bush administration requested. That money, of course, is tied up with all these appropriations bills that the Congress is going to consider as an omnibus package. So it’s not enough funding…it certainly is more than the U.S. provided in previous years. But when one considers how much the U.S. is spending in Iraq -- $4 billion a month for the war and the occupation of Iraq -- $4 billion a month, and yet the White House is unwilling to spend $3 billion a year that it promised for fighting global AIDS.

AIDS is the greatest global threat to human security right now -- it’s a greater threat than terrorism or even weapons of mass destruction. It’s killing some three million people a year, undermining even more families and destabilizing countries’ economies, particularly in Africa. And the U.S. is creating an entirely new bureaucracy to manage the AIDS money, and this is most unfortunate because the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria was established in 2001 with U.S. support, and yet the U.S. has been reluctant to provide it with adequate funding such that the global fund is almost bankrupt to respond to the proposals it is receiving, and yet the U.S. has only been willing to provide it with a mere $200 million a year.

When President Bush announced his new initiative of $15 billion over a five-year period, he decided to create a new, duplicative bureaucracy -- I would say wasteful bureaucracy -- and he then appointed the former head of a pharmaceutical giant, Eli Lilly, to direct this global AIDS initiative out of the State Department. So you have this new bureaucracy at the State Department to handle AIDS money, you have a New Millennium Challenge Account initiative which is separate, and both of these are examples of American unilateralism, an unwillingness to pool our resources with other resources from donor countries in order to ensure that the poor countries can focus on the fight at hand, that they don’t spend all their time dealing with dozens of different donors, but that they can access resources in the most straightforward, simple and transparent way.

For more information, call Africa Action at (202) 546-7961 or visit their website at http://www.africaaction.org

Related links:

-The Global Health Access Gap at http://www.healthgap.org

- World AIDS Day at http://www.worldaidsday.org

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Melinda Tuhus is a producer with Between The Lines, which can be heard on over 35 radio stations. This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines ( http://www.btlonline.org), for the week ending Dec. 19, 2003. Between The Lines Q&A is compiled by Melinda Tuhus and Anna Manzo.

PRINT INFORMATION: For reprint permission, please email betweenthelines@snet.net.


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