Editorials Urge Bush Administration to Ramp Up AntiAIDS Efforts
A number of recent editorials and op-eds urge the Bush Administration and governments of other developed nations to step up efforts to curb the AIDS epidemic devastating developing countries. Several of these opinion pieces are summarized below:
Michael Luhan, a former information officer for WHO, writes in a Prague Post op-ed, "As the Bush administration feverishly promotes its grandiose plan for a new anti-missile shield to defend against a threat that is far from clear, Washington has yet to indicate how it will confront what is far more clearly the most serious global security threat of this decade -- the disintegration of an entire continent, Africa, with the impending deaths of at least 25 million people infected with the AIDS virus." Luhan, who currently works for the Prague-based People in Need Foundation, a humanitarian aid group, writes that Western governments, pharmaceutical companies and taxpayers must help deliver treatment to the millions of AIDS patients in Africa. Over the past 10 years, "multinational corporations and their home governments, notably Washington, have worked hard to keep prices up [for AIDS drugs] by limiting exports to the Third World and vigorously enforcing patent rights." Luhan adds, "I hope they're proud." He urges Bush to "make good on his lofty words about 'compassionate conservatism,'" by allotting more funds to fight the AIDS epidemic. The cost of "conquering AIDS in Africa," according to Harvard economist Jeffrey Sachs' estimate, is between $5 billion and $10 billion a year over the next decade, which represents "one-tenth of 1% of the combined gross national products of Western countries," Luhan notes. "Were the Black Death threatening Europe today, I doubt we'd be quibbling," he adds. However, Luhan writes, half of the solution -- prevention -- lies on the shoulders of Africa itself. Luhan states that "African nations are themselves primarily to blame for this nightmare," adding, "Governments have not only failed to exert leadership, but many still refuse to acknowledge that the crisis exists and avoid even mentioning AIDS in public statements." Certain cultural practices have fueled the epidemic, Luhan writes, citing "[r]ampant sexual promiscuity, driven by traditional male attitudes;" how African women who insist their partners use condoms are "ridiculed and beaten because 'real men' don't use them"' and the "social stigma" associated with AIDS (Luhan, Prague Post, 2/21).
New York Times
"[E]ach week brings new developments on fighting AIDS in poor nations, and a stronger international consensus that poor countries can provide treatment ... and improve their prevention campaigns," a New York Times editorial states, citing Indian pharmaceutical company Cipla's recent announcement that it would sell AIDS drugs for no more than $600 per year per patient to African countries. However, "None of this will be possible ... without leadership from the Bush administration, which must take a more aggressive role in combatting AIDS abroad than its predecessor." The editorial adds that Congress' allocation for all AIDS programs this year "amounts to only" $315 million -- "vastly inadequate to prevent the catastrophic scenarios looming in Africa." The editorial states that the Cipla offer will "greatly" contribute to AIDS treatment efforts, "especially if it provokes brand-name drug makers to lower their prices, as it seems to be doing." But these vastly discounted prices are still "out of reach for most Africans," thus "wealthy nations" must step in and pay for the drugs and help "improve" Africa's health care delivery systems "so they can properly administer these drugs -- an effort that would reap many other health benefits as well." The United States "must assume part of the responsibility," which requires the Bush administration to "multiply its allocation for AIDS in the third world substantially." The editorial urges the administration to "abandon" policies that prevent developing nations' access to cheap drugs and to work with UNAIDS and the WHO to "improve access to needed medicines," concluding, "The means now exist to treat the sick, if America will help" (New York Times, 2/25).
U.S. News & World Report
U.S. News & World Report editor-at-large David Gergen writes that America has "shilly-shallied" over the past two decades in the face of the AIDS epidemic, "perhaps because many of us thought that the problem was so big and intractable that it defied solution." Gergen adds, "That excuse is now unacceptable." He praises national security officials for "recogniz[ing] that the unraveling in southern Africa presents national security concerns for the United States," but adds, "Even if we could erect barriers" to protect Americans, "we would still face the moral question of what we owe others less fortunate." While he acknowledges that "the United States cannot become an international 911," Gergen adds, "[W]hen the worst disease strikes since the bubonic plague, surely we will want our children to know that we stood up and did the right thing" (Gergen, U.S. News & World Report, 2/26).
Los Angeles Times
For developing nations in Latin America, Africa and Asia that cannot afford antiretroviral drugs, "the choice is between watching their citizens die by the thousands or bending and sometimes breaking international patent laws," a Los Angeles Times editorial says. Multinational pharmaceutical companies have fought against the importation of generic drugs for fear that the "cheaper gray-market drugs" will eventually enter Western markets and ruin the companies' profits. But the editorial says, "Should Africa somehow manage to begin gray-market production and distribution, it's absurd to think it would have enough of the drugs left to flood Western markets after meeting the dire needs in its own region. In sub-Saharan Africa, 5,500 AIDS victims are buried everyday." The editorial continues, "Even if African nations somehow mustered the wealth and will to create a surplus of the drugs, companies would be well positioned to fight their importation into the United States." The editorial says that "there is too little monetary reward and too much moral pain in continuing their quest to fully enforce patents and pricing in the Third World" and calls on President Bush to "help the companies see that their futures lie elsewhere." In upholding Clinton's executive order to not seek sanctions against countries facing a health crisis for violating patents, the Bush administration "committed only to refrain from seeking sanctions against South Africa," for the order referred only to the South African Medicines Act for the importation of generic drugs. Bush should "extend that noninterference policy to other needy nations, like India, Thailand and Brazil," the editorial asserts (Los Angeles Times, 2/26).
"To the surprise of many AIDS activists, the Bush administration has agreed to look the other way if poor countries in southern Africa decide to buy or manufacture low-cost, generic versions of anti-HIV drugs," a Newsday editorial states, calling this move "the only decent course to take." The editorial adds that Bush's reinstatement of Clinton's South Africa policy on international trade rights would not "subvert international patent agreements and unfairly hurt legitimate pharmaceutical companies" because World Trade Organization rules allow countries entrenched in a "public health emergency" to issue compulsory licenses for the manufacture of necessary generic drugs. The editorial adds, "In any case, what kind of profits can the major pharmaceutical companies expect to make from Africa? The whole problem is that the population hit hardest with AIDS has no money for life-prolonging therapy." The editorial concludes, "The use of knockoff drugs in the clinics of Paris or New York would indeed be unfair. But in Soweto? What other choice is there?" (Newsday, 2/27).
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