Natsios’ Comments on Time ‘Not U.S. Policy,’ U.S. Official Says; Criticism of Statements Continues
Commenting on USAID chief Andrew Natsios, whose comments regarding Africans' inability to understand Western time drew ire from many groups, National Security Council Senior Director of African Affairs Jendayi Frazer said that Natsios' statements represented personal opinion and not U.S. policy, the Boston Globe reports. Earlier this month, Natsios said that it was "unwise to put significant funds" into antiretroviral drug treatment in Africa because of a lack of health care infrastructure, including hospitals and physicians. He said that because many Africans "have never seen a clock before, or a watch," they would find it difficult to adhere to the strict schedule required for antiretroviral treatment. Frazer said, "On the cultural issues about clocks and watches and times, and morning and noon and afternoon, I think it's always extremely important, when a government official speaks, that they clearly designate when they are talking from their own personal perspective versus what is official policy. We never had any discussion with any administration official on HIV/AIDS on times. That is a very personal perspective" (Donnelly, Boston Globe, 6/19).
Editorials and opinion pieces criticizing Natsios' public comments continue to appear in newspapers across the country. A Boston Globe editorial says that the "bigger problem with Natsios' remarks is that they bespeak defeatism in the effort to limit the scourge of AIDS in Africa. ... It's as though Dwight Eisenhower had assembled the D-Day invasion force in 1944 and then decided it would be more prudent to use it to defend England and let Hitler keep Europe." Regarding Natsios' conviction that prevention should be emphasized over treatment efforts in Africa, the editorial says, "A high priority must be given to prevent the spread of the disease, but work in developing countries has shown that treatment with drugs can both save lives and spur prevention." The editorial concludes, "The United States, to its credit, is the single largest contributor by far to global AIDS efforts. For those efforts to succeed in Africa, the most severely affected countries have to display more political leadership than they have so far. At the same time, Western countries have to supply resources, technology, and a can-do spirit. Natsios should think less about wristwatches and more about history, which won't be kind to rich nations that let poor ones be destroyed by AIDS" (Boston Globe, 6/17). In his New York Times column, Bob Herbert says that Natsios' "view of Africans as so ignorant they can't muster the concept of taking their medicine on time has become a touchstone of the Bush administration," adding that the "brutal stereotyping of the Dark Continent lives on, encouraged by U.S. government officials who should know better." Although it is important to encourage prevention, Herbert writes that the "truth is that both prevention and drug therapy are desperately needed in Africa." He continues, "The United States, a rich and healthy nation, cannot close its eyes to suffering on such a colossal scale. There is medication available to ease the suffering and its cost is coming down. Now the steps must be taken to get the medicine to the people in need. ... [I]t would be the everlasting shame of the United States if its officials proved to be a barrier to that kind of life-saving treatment." Herbert mentions that Natsios has "reluctantly acknowledged that some limited use of antiretroviral treatment in Africa may be OK" and has expressed regret if any offense was taken to his statements (Herbert, New York Times, 6/11).