Africa

Commentary

The Truth About George Bush's Anti-AIDS Push

The president is returning a favor from the big U.S. pharmaceutical companies. Those who pay the piper call the tune. In campaigning for the 2002 U.S. congressional elections, the Republicans spent US$650 million (compared with $458 million for the Democrats) and $145 million of the total was raised personally by President George Bush.

According to Public Campaign, a nonprofit, nonpartisan group campaigning for electoral reform in the United States, many of Bush’s State of the Union proposals to Congress last month were designed to satisfy the desires of his largest campaign contributors. Thus, more than half the benefits of the $1.35 trillion in income-tax cuts over 10 years will go to Americans earning more than $104,000 a year. And they make the bulk of personal contributions of $1,000 or more, which have totaled $1.8 billion since 1999.

Bush said in his address that Social Security funds for younger workers are to be shifted into “retirement accounts that they will control and they will own,” which will generate billions in new commissions for Wall Street, whether the market goes up or down.

He proposes $33 billion in tax breaks to resource-extraction industries; to shield utilities from mandatory steps to reduce air pollution; and to open more federal land to logging.

These concessions, all of which have dubious economic or social benefits, provide a handsome return on donations to federal parties and candidates since 1989. According to Public Campaign, these donations total: $81 million from securities and investment firms; $319 million from extraction industries; $71 million from utilities; and $31 million from the timber industry.

Missing from the list of rewards was the $15 billion AIDS relief program for Africa, which seems to have received a good press, even from Bush opponents.

The proposal caught everyone by surprise. According to the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, on his first day in office, Bush restored the Reagan-era “global gag rule” on international family planning assistance.

In May 2002, Bush administration representatives at the United Nations Children’s Summit opposed the use of condoms for HIV/AIDS prevention. In July, he withheld from the U.N. Population Fund $34 million in funding for birth control, maternal and child care, and HIV/AIDS prevention. In August, he withheld more than $200 million in funding to support women and tackle HIV/AIDS in Afghanistan.

In January 2003, the United States killed a deal agreed to by 143 World Trade Organization members to allow developing countries to import generic drugs from countries such as India, rather than the more expensive patented drugs from the United States and Europe.

The U.S. pharmaceutical manufacturing industry is one of the top 10 industry contributors to federal U.S. political campaigns. Prescription drugs cost twice as much in the United States as in other developed countries, and the industry makes three times the profit of other industries.

The question is, will the money proposed for the AIDS relief program benefit Africa by being used to buy drugs from the cheapest source—or, as is more likely, will it be used to subsidize production by the American pharmaceutical manufacturers, to protect their markets in developing countries?

Bush could do far more to minimize the AIDS epidemic now sweeping the Third World by reversing the infamous “global gag rule,” which promotes needless deaths by discouraging safe sex and [promotes] unwanted pregnancies, which lead to unsafe abortions.

The International Planned Parenthood Federation calls the policy “Bush’s secret war” and says his actions “are a testament to the Bush administration’s war against women and his overall contempt for their fundamental civil and human rights.”

U.S. bullying in international forums and its effort to gut international reproductive health programs was in evidence at the U.N. Asian and Pacific Population Conference held last December in Bangkok (and at which the United States was represented because of its ownership of the island of Guam).

According to Dr. Martha Campbell from the Berkeley School of Public Health, “The Bush delegation was young, pro-life, bright, well trained, legally savvy, deceptive, and threatening....In the corridor we witnessed the U.S. delegation threatening at least one high-level Asian delegate with his country’s loss of U.S. foreign aid and the loss of his own career.”

In the end, every country represented defied the United States, but all their time was taken up, says Campbell, in “preventing damage by a 500-pound gorilla from Guam.”

The U.S. delegation demanded the deletion of a recommendation for “consistent condom use” to fight AIDS, even though a Berkeley study found condom distribution to be astonishingly cost-effective, at $3.50 a year of life saved. Anti-retroviral therapy costs more than $1,000.

This expensive option is obviously more acceptable to the religious fundamentalists who give the Bush administration its moral dimension, and to the American pharmaceutical manufacturers who apparently want an even bigger return on their political investment in Washington.

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