Friday, February 03, 2006

Bush's AIDS Policy... or lack there of.

Bush's AIDS Policy... or lack there of.

Three-quarters of AIDS deaths worldwide have been in Africa, and today the continent is home to nearly two-thirds of all of those who are HIV-positive (more than 25 million people).1 Fewer people know that most Africans living with HIV/AIDS are women, and that young women are now being infected at a rate three to four times higher than young men.2 For many, this information is absorbed through a mesh of stereotypes that make human misery seem like a natural condition of life in Africa.

But while AIDS—like the litany of this year's natural disasters—may have originated in nature, the magnitude of its destruction is a man-made catastrophe. Consider the following:

Since the 1980s when AIDS first emerged, the US has demanded "economic austerity measures" in impoverished countries. In Africa, these policies cut national health budgets in half just when public health systems needed to be ramped up to combat AIDS.3 Today, the pandemic is the single greatest obstacle to economic development in Africa.
To bolster already-huge profits of US pharmaceutical companies, the Bush Administration has blocked the sale of affordable generic drugs that have saved millions of lives in rich countries.
Women are made particularly vulnerable to HIV infection because they are denied the rights to refuse sex or insist on condom use. As the majority of those living in poverty and the poorest of the poor, women are more likely to contract HIV and more likely to develop symptoms of AIDS soon after they are infected.

Any successful prevention strategy has to promote women's social and economic rights. Yet the dominant approach remains the Bush Administration's ill-conceived "ABC" strategy: "Abstain, Be faithful, use Condoms." Abstinence is not a choice for women who are raped or coerced into sex. Faithfulness is irrelevant for women whose husbands have multiple partners (for African women, marriage is actually a risk factor for contracting HIV).4 And condoms—presented by the Bush Administration as a "last resort" in the fight against AIDS—depend on men's willingness to use them and both partner's willingness to forgo having children. Moreover, by placing the burden for prevention on individual behavior, the ABC strategy allows policymakers to ignore the poverty and inequality that form the breeding ground for AIDS.

The UN's "3 by 5" initiative to provide anti-retroviral drugs to three million people by the end of the last year failed by a two-thirds margin. In Africa, nine out of ten people with HIV/AIDS are still denied these drugs, now almost universally available in wealthy countries. The reason? Lack of political will and high drug prices. Universal access to treatment is an achievable goal, but it requires the US and EU to respect poor countries' right to import cheaper generic versions of AIDS drugs.

Effective programs that combine HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention have been implemented in Uganda, Tanzania, Thailand and elsewhere. But rather than support the best of these efforts, the Bush Administration has put AIDS policy into the hands of Christian fundamentalists (who have pushed their ideological ABC approach to prevention)and drug-company lobbyists (who have prioritized industry profits over ensuring access to life-saving medicines). Today, the White House is issuing reminders of President Bush's "compassionate" $15 billion program to fight AIDS, particularly in Africa. But that promise was made over three years ago and most of the money has never materialized. In fact, Bush's initiative actually undermined effective international efforts to combat AIDS through the UN Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria. Instead of paying its fair share to the Fund ($3.5 billion, or one-third of the total), the US has pledged just $0.6 billion for 2006-2007.

It's not really about the money, which is negligible in relation to the US economy. Rather, the US leverages the debt to ensure African governments' compliance with policies that suit US interests.

No comments: