The United States fought back Wednesday against widespread attacks on its AIDS policies, insisting it is leading the fight against the killer epidemic and spending more money on it than the rest of the world combined.
The United States fought back Wednesday against widespread attacks on its AIDS policies, insisting it is leading the fight against the killer epidemic and spending more money on it than the rest of the world combined.But it rejected a plea from U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to inject $1 billion a year into a global AIDS fund.”It’s not going to happen,” U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator Randall Tobias told a small group of reporters at the 15th International AIDS Conference in Bangkok.”The president has requested $200 million for next year and I think that is more than adequate to meet the requirements of the Global Fund in terms of getting money out for putting programs in place,” he said.Controversy about U.S. payments to the public-private Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, launched in 2002 as a brainchild of Annan and needing more than $3 billion for 2005, has overshadowed this week’s discussions at the AIDS summit attended by 17,000 people.Earlier in the day, some 50 protesters chanting “Bush lies, millions die” delayed Tobias’ speech to the conference in which he mounted a robust defense of President Bush’s AIDS policies.”This year, America is spending nearly twice as much to fight global AIDS as the rest of the world’s donor governments combined,” Tobias said.Room existed for different approaches in fighting AIDS, he said, rejecting accusations that Washington’s decision to launch its own program and its support for sexual abstinence as a pillar of policy was undermining a unified strategy.”HIV/AIDS is the real enemy. The denial, stigma and complacency that fuel HIV/AIDS — these are real enemies too. It is morally imperative that we direct our energies at these enemies, not at one another,” he said.”Preventing AIDS is not a multiple-choice test,” he said. “Abstinence works. Being faithful works. Condoms work. Each has its place.”‘NOT LEADERSHIP’ Washington’s moral agenda, trade policies and funding guidelines have come in for stinging criticism at the meeting this week from activists and world leaders, including French President Jacques Chirac and Annan.But Tobias backed Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who sparked a row this week by questioning the primacy of condoms in preventing infection and said people should stay faithful and abstain from sex.The Bush plan pledges $15 billion — $10 billion of it new money — over five years for care, prevention and treatment in 15 countries, mostly in Africa and the Caribbean, which account for 70 percent of all infections.Critics say that bilateral effort undermines the Global Fund, to which the United States is already the biggest donor.Stephen Lewis, a former Canadian diplomat and special U.N. envoy on AIDS in Africa, was among them.”The American money going to 15 countries is not leadership on AIDS. It’s a significant role, but the global fund is in 120 countries. That’s a more profound sense of leadership. It responds to the problem in a far more universal way,” he said.Tobias showed “an inability to recognize the way the world most effectively works,” Lewis told Reuters.Annan has urged the United States to show the same commitment to AIDS — which has claimed 20 million lives and infects 14,000 people a day — as it shows in the battle against terrorism.Chirac, in a speech read on his behalf, said a U.S. drive for bilateral trade deals was undermining an international pact to provide cheap generic AIDS drugs to the developing world and was “tantamount to blackmail.”The conference — the biggest gathering of scientists, activists, drug company bosses and AIDS sufferers — has seen daily protests against Bush, other G8 leaders and the drug industry, all accused of not doing enough to fight the pandemic.The Bush plan has also drawn fire for requiring that drugs purchased with U.S. funds for use in developing countries be approved by the Federal Drug Administration.Tobias, the former chairman and chief executive of U.S. pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly, said the president’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief would buy safe and effective drugs from the cheapest source of supply.But he said it was vital that any cheap generics used met the highest possible standards.Critics fear the requirement for FDA approval is a tactic to protect patented drug brands from U.S. pharmaceutical companies from cheap generic competitors.(Source: Reuters, July 2004)