President Bush’s recent tour of Africa to tout his $15 billion pledge to fight the continent’s AIDS epidemic and promote trade was met with skepticism by critics who charged that his administration is attempting to mask regressive policies with staged public relations events.
Bush’s trip to Africa appears to represent, more than anything else, an opportunity to present a photo-op for the upcoming November 2004 elections,” said Bill Fletcher, president of TransAfrica Forum.
Salih Booker, executive director of Africa Action, called Bush’s commitment to fighting AIDS in Africa “a cruel hoax,” adding that Bush “has virtually sidestepped the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, thus undermining the most important vehicle in the war on AIDS.”
The HIV-AIDS Prevention Act that Bush signed into law in May promises $3 billion for AIDS relief in Africa for 2004. Bush has asked Congress to allocate only two-thirds of that total while putting severe limitations on how much can be given to the cash-strapped Global Fund to Fight AIDS, a multilateral organization set up by the U.N. Funding for the remaining four years of the aid package will need to be renewed annually, making it far from certain that Bush’s promise of $15 billion in aid over five years will be met.
Instead of joining an established and effective multilateral aid organization like the Global Fund, the Bush administration will set up its own AIDS relief program through the State Department. This organization will set aside one-third of all prevention funding for abstinence-only programs, appeasing the religious right but angering AIDS activists who see safe-sex education as a necessary tool for AIDS prevention.
In a recent op-ed piece, a leading British medical journal, The Lancet, lambasted the Bush administration’s choice of Randall Tobias, the former head of the pharmaceutical firm Eli Lilly & Co. (and a generous donor to the Republican Party), as Global AIDS coordinator.
Charging that the selection was a move to protect the interests of U.S. drug companies rather than providing low-cost medication to the millions of infected Africans, The Lancet wrote, “Tobias needs quickly, and publicly, to support purchasing of low-cost generics to provide ammunition against those who charge that he is no more than a stooge of the drug industry.”
Any support of generic medications would be a reversal of current U.S. policy. “The administration’s position in the WTO limits or denies the means to procure HIV/AIDS medications at a reasonable price,” said Njoki Njoroge Njehu, director of the 50 Years is Enough Network.
According to Njehu, the administration’s protection of U.S. drug companies is only one of many U.S. policies that keep Africa from providing legitimate AIDS treatment. “The administration’s farm subsidies to the tune of $100 billion dollars are choking off African farmers,” furthering poverty on the continent.
Mara Vanderslice, program director of Jubilee USA Network, points to Africa’s foreign debts as “one of the single most pressing issues to the people of Africa,” which Bush refuses to address. “Countries in Sub-Saharan Africa pay out $14.5 billion in debt service. This is more than the continent receives in foreign aid, around $12 billion, and more than is needed to stem the tide of AIDS.”
According to Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, debt payments account for 4.4 percent of Africa’s income. This creates a situation where “the world’s poorest countries are transferring a large amount of their income — even after taking into account the new loans and grants that they get for development assistance — to the vastly richer North.”
“The legislation on AIDS [Bush] signed into law calls on his administration to negotiate for deeper debt relief,” said Vanderslice. “President Bush is effectively ignoring the will of Congress.”
Kevin McCarthy is a writer with IPA Media, a project of the Institute for Public Accuracy. This article draws on research conducted by the Institute for Public Accuracy.