Jul 14, 2003
Hoping to blur the growing scandal over the lies he told about Iraq's weapons, George W. Bush went to Africa last week. He made some extravagant promises about AIDS. Pledging to spend 15 billion dollars over five years to fight HIV/AIDS in Africa, Bush said this was ten times as much as previous U.S. spending to fight the disease in Africa.
Certainly, Africa is suffering a veritable plague. Over 29 million people on the continent have AIDS or are HIV-positive. In some countries, over one-third of the population is infected with the deadly virus. With only 12% of the world's population, the continent has 90% (11 million) of the world's AIDS orphans. But what Bush is proposing doesn't begin to address the problem – and in fact was not intended to.
These funds – and this is what is most disgusting – are not going for actual health care in Africa. Part of the money will go to fund Bush's own political priorities. For example, out of the small AIDS budget, 130 million dollars will go to finance the "abstinence-before marriage" programs of the right-wing religious fundamentalists who make up much of Bush's voting base here in the U.S. Leading HIV/AIDS medical groups working in Africa, such as Physicians for Human Rights, have already condemned these kinds of restrictions, saying that such a program can only impede the overall prevention and treatment programs.
The biggest chunk of money, over half a billion dollars in the first year, will be spent in Washington, D.C. to create a new U.S. government bureaucracy, an Anti-AIDS administration. What will be the purpose of this new bureaucracy? Bush doesn't say it out loud, but his appointment of the man to head it says a lot. The first coordinator will be Randall Tobias – whose last job was CEO of the U.S. pharmaceutical giant, Eli Lilly. Under the guise of fighting AIDS, this new administration will really be fighting to protect and expand the profits of the U.S. pharmaceutical companies, to protect their ability to charge outrageous amounts of money for AIDS treatments in Africa, while keeping out the much, much, much cheaper and just as effective generic drugs manufactured in India and Brazil. In other words, Bush's AIDS program will deny drug treatments to the vast majority of African people infected with the AIDS virus.
The government is not spending more money, as advertised. In the first year of this five-year pledge of 15 billion dollars, only a little more than one billion dollars was spent. And next year, they plan to spend only two billion, instead of the three billion dollars a year that the pledge implies. And the small increase in spending to fight AIDS in Africa will be paid for by cuts in the U.S. budget to fight the other deadly diseases in Africa, including malaria and tuberculosis.
Bush went to Africa not to alleviate this crisis. He went to serve the interests of one set of very powerful U.S. corporations in increasing their deadly grip over this impoverished continent.