Africa Expert Discusses Bush Foreign Policy Agenda
President Bush's foreign policy agenda and its potential impact on the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa was one of the issues addressed by a panel of foreign policy experts at a Foreign Policy in Focus press conference yesterday. Panelist Salih Booker, director of the New York-based Africa Fund and the Washington, D.C.-based Africa Policy Information Center, called on Bush to increase funding to "shared public health issues," including HIV/AIDS, and to back up his earlier campaign promises of debt relief for poorer nations. Booker urged Bush to devote 5% of the national budget surplus to funding "public health crises," including the African HIV/AIDS epidemic. Booker said he found it "unfortunate" that no politician has suggested allocating some of the surplus for health issues such as HIV/AIDS. He added that while he hoped Bush would devote resources toward fighting the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa, oil was more likely to be the focus of Bush's interests on the continent.
Generic Drugs and Debt Relief
Booker specifically highlighted two issues -- debt relief for poorer nations and the manufacture of generic antiretroviral drugs -- as topics he believes the Bush administration will address. He said that he is "very fearful" that Bush will reverse Clinton's executive order allowing governments of sub-Saharan African nations to import generic HIV drugs. To do this would be "an antiAfrican measure of immense proportions" on Bush's part and a "PR disaster" on the part of the pharmaceutical companies, Booker said. Booker was more optimistic about the possibility of debt relief, which he said "stand[s] a chance" under Bush's foreign policy agenda. He pointed to Bush's campaign statements advocating debt relief, adding that Bush "must be held accountable" for these statements (Meredith McGroarty, Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 1/25). While Bush may choose to implement some form of debt relief, "complacency ... is more likely" to be his attitude toward many issues surrounding HIV/AIDS in Africa, Booker noted in a recent Foreign Policy in Focus commentary. "In the context of a Bush presidency and a divided Congress, breaking through the systemic American disdain for Africa will not happen unless there are real shifts in public perceptions ... If we regard HIV/AIDS as just another disease, and those affected as excluded from our common humanity, then the odds of making Africa a priority in the years ahead are low indeed," he concluded (Booker, Foreign Policy in Focus, 12/2000).