Empty promises on global AIDS

Published September 21, 2004 9:26PM (EDT)

When President Bush referenced the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria during his speech at the U.N. today, he probably set many eyes to rolling worldwide -- including Kofi Annan's. "Because we believe in human dignity, America and many nations have established a global fund to fight AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria," Bush told the General Assembly. Actually, Annan proposed the creation of the Global Fund in 2001 and called on world leaders to pitch in $10 billion a year. The Fund now provides grants to 129 countries -- but its future is in jeopardy, thanks in large part to Bush.

Bush has undermined the Fund's progress by proposing to cut U.S. contributions by 64 percent. Instead  and his approach to global AIDS will sound familiar to those of you following his foreign policy  Bush has preferred a go-it-alone approach, focusing American dollars and energy on his own separate initiative, the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief [PEPFAR]. That's the $15 billion-over-5 years plan Bush proposed during his 2003 State of the Union address. But Bush's unilateral efforts are not making up for what the Global Fund cannot accomplish. His spending proposal for next year is only a fifth of what the U.N. says it should be for a minimal response to the crisis. And so far, there is little evidence that his plan is working.

Bush estimated that 2 million people with AIDS would be "treated" under the U.S. initiative. In a statement after Bush's speech today, Michael Weinstein, president of AIDS Healthcare Foundation, the largest AIDS organization in the U.S., described how slow the progress has been in getting people with AIDS on anti-retrovirals. "More than a year-and-a-half after PEPFAR was first introduced, we believe fewer than 16,000 people are receiving life-saving anti-retrovirals as a direct result of PEPFAR -- far, far short of the President's stated goal of half a million people in treatment by the end of this month."

Congress passed a law last year setting 500,000 as the treatment goal for the president's program by the end of September 2004. "Last week, the administration had the audacity to try to claim 'success' by noting more than 25,000 people are now in treatment thanks to PEPFAR," said Cesar Portillo, AHF's Chief of Public Affairs. "We believe this number is an overstatement, but even this number still only represents a paltry 5 percent of the president's goal -- results that can't be labeled anything but a dismal failure." AHF says the U.S. Centers for Disease Control is "sitting on" global AIDS treatment proposals it has approved but hasn't funded, and called on the Bush administration to fund the programs immediately.

Bush acknowledged to the General Assembly today that AIDS is the world's greatest health crisis -- an understatement if ever there was one. If he really intends to do something about it, he could fully fund his own proposals, and do his part to keep the Global Fund viable. After all, for what we're spending on the Iraq war, the National Priorities Project points out, we could have funded worldwide AIDS projects for 13 years.

By Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

MORE FROM Geraldine Sealey

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

War Room