Former President Clinton Urges U.S. Commitment to ‘War on AIDS’ on Eve of U.N. Session
The United States "must confront the AIDS epidemic as we would any other life-and-death struggle: with overwhelming determination," former President Bill Clinton writes in a Washington Post opinion piece. Clinton states that the United States "has profound interests in reversing" the spread of HIV/AIDS in developing nations because "the health of our economy relies on the sustained vitality of foreign markets, many of which are threatened by the AIDS pandemic." Clinton notes that countries such as Uganda, Senegal and Brazil have "proven that with strong leadership, popular commitment and proportionate resources, they can slow or even reverse the rate of new infection and provide life-prolonging treatment for the sick." However, he says that "we can't fight this war on a shoestring budget." He calls the $10 billion Global AIDS and Health Fund proposed by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan a step "in the right direction" and states that the United States should "commit its share of the war chest -- approximately 22% of the total, to about 1% of the recently passed tax cut." He says that the United States "can afford to devote these resources," adding, "To shirk this responsibility is to abdicate America's timeless role as a beacon of hope and promise." He concludes, "The question is no longer whether we can or can't win the war on AIDS. Of course we can. The question is: Will we or won't we? ... The price of neglect will be far higher over the long run" (Clinton, Washington Post, 6/24).
More Comments on U.N. HIV/AIDS Conference
With the U.N. General Assembly's special session on HIV/AIDS set to begin today, editorials and opinion pieces in newspapers nationwide have commented on the meeting's prospects and how the United Nations has handled the HIV/AIDS epidemic thus far. Below are some of the commentaries.
- Washington Post: Although the special U.N. session "is the latest sign that the international response to the [AIDS] crisis is gaining momentum," disputes have already arisen over the Global AIDS and Health Fund, a Washington Post editorial states. The editorial states that the first "argument" concerns administration of the fund -- wealthier nations in line to contribute to the pool "want to keep it free of U.N. bureaucracy, rightly preferring to have some nimbler organization run it," while poorer countries "favor the U.N. structure because it gives them more say." The editorial says that the U.N. meeting must "persuade developing nations that an agile fund is in their own interests and to come up with a management formula that placates rival development agencies that want to play first fiddle." The Post adds that governments and health experts are disputing how much emphasis the fund should place on prevention as opposed to treatment. Since drug discounts and "promising treatment programs in places such as Brazil have proved that treatment should be part of AIDS-control programs," the editorial says that both prevention and treatment efforts should receive funding, with money also going toward vaccine research. But there is a "pressing need" to find more resources for the fund, the editorial states, adding that "the Bush administration should be ashamed by its meager offering of $200 million." The editorial concludes, "AIDS has become a catastrophe because of human denial -- especially among poor-country governments and their people. A plague of rich-country denial about the likely cost of meeting the challenge is the last thing that is needed" (Washington Post, 6/24).
- New York Times: This week's U.N. session on HIV/AIDS "is a sign that the world is realizing the urgency of the AIDS catastrophe," but there is also a "danger ... that nations might content themselves with little more than symbolism," a New York Times editorial states. The editorial notes that the "most heated and important controversy will concern AIDS treatment." Although "[i]t is legitimate to worry that treatment could gobble up the [Global Health and AIDS Fund's] budget," treatment is "imperative" and must be included along with prevention efforts, the editorial states. The editorial says that the "overriding question" concerning the fund is its lack of resources, adding that "[e]ven the optimists today believe that only about $1 billion will be raised by the end of the year -- not enough for even basic prevention programs, let alone the more expensive treatment programs." The editorial concludes, "The U.N. session can pave the way for generosity by creating an AIDS fund that is effective, accountable and responsive to the needs of the sick. But the real power is with the donors. The way to keep relatively expensive AIDS treatment from crowding out prevention is to give enough money to do both" (New York Times, 6/24).
- Newsday: The UNAIDS report outlining the need for a $9.2 billion global fund to combat HIV/AIDS is an example of a "specific, coherent and workable anti-HIV strategy" and provides a "reason for hope" that greater progress against the disease will be made, a Newsday editorial states. The editorial says that "crucial support" from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Winterthur Insurance signals "[a]nother reason for hope." But "[p]lenty of pitfalls lie ahead," the editorial states, pointing to upcoming debates over funding allocation and the implementation of treatment programs (Newsday, 6/24).
- Baltimore Sun: The extent of the AIDS epidemic "boggles the mind," a Sun editorial states. To curb the epidemic, "A greater commitment by [the United States] is clearly needed, as well as the donations of other governments and private groups." The paper notes that antiretrovials "account for the fact that many of us know people who are living with AIDS, even as so many Africans are dying from AIDS." However, this "conundrum" makes the "tragedy" of the epidemic "more palpably real -- and the special U.N. session ... all the more important" (Baltimore Sun, 6/25).
- Minneapolis Star Tribune: "Such an enormous, international life-and-death threat" as the AIDS epidemic "demands a mammoth, worldwide, coordinated response," the Star Tribune writes, adding, "That is what dozens of world leaders need to accomplish this week" at the U.N. special session on AIDS. Achieving the "worthy goal" of designing and implementing a "set of general marching orders for every nation" to respond to the epidemic "requires vigorous leadership, strong multisector support and additional funding." Thus, "[i]nternational government and business support is crucial, but the most-affected nations must also adjust their priorities to fight the disease." The editorial urges "world nations" to divert resources away from "war and internal conflict" and towards AIDS. In addition, "Leaders at the summit need to put aside religious and other differences, listen to the success stories outlined at the summit, then make it a national priority to combat HIV/AIDS" (Minneapolis Star Tribune, 6/25).
- South Florida Sun-Sentinel: "Even before the United Nations begins its first special session on AIDS today, there are signs of trouble," a Sun-Sentinel editorial states. Leaders disagree on "key elements" of the U.N. guidelines to combat the epidemic, clashing on the issues of "social taboos, religion and politics." In addition, industrialized nations "also are fighting among themselves over the U.N. anti-AIDS plan," disagreeing over whether it should call for the protection of "vulnerable individuals" or "concentrate on at-risk groups." The editorial urges the "international community" to "stay focused on the goal, which is to beat a growing epidemic." The editorial concludes, "Combatting a global AIDS epidemic means dealing with taboos, biases and political preferences. These should be secondary to the survival and well-being of the human race" (South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 6/25).
- Detroit Free Press: The Free Press urges countries and global business to "do more -- not just to do right but to assure their own futures." It adds, "If AIDS keeps speeding down its pandemic track, African nations will never succeed in their slow crawl toward democracy and capitalism." The editorial cites Coke's donation to the global AIDS fund last week as a "laudable" effort that also won the company some "cheap public relations." But it concludes, "Goodwill gestures are never bad, but fighting AIDS requires further digging into the deepest pockets" (Detroit Free Press, 6/25).
- New York Times: Annan writes in an op-ed to the New York Times, "[I]n the last few months the world has awakened at last, not only to the scope of the problem, but to the reality that we are not powerless against it." The U.N. special session comes at a time "when we have more reason for hope than we have had in the last 20 years," he adds. Annan predicts that more donations to the global AIDS fund will be announced at this week's session, writing, "I am sure more countries will announce contributions." He adds, "I believe the public in the richer nations is also ready to contribute significantly," noting, "It is in these nations' self-interest to do so, since no country can be unaffected by a global disaster of this magnitude" (Annan, New York Times, 6/25).
- Los Angeles Times: As world leaders at this week's session prepare to answer "the real questions" of how to fund the "war" against HIV/AIDS, they should consider debt cancellation for the world's poorest countries, Salih Booker writes in a Los Angeles Times op-ed. Booker, executive director of the not-for-profit group Africa Action, writes that Africa's external debt currently totals more than $300 billion and costs governments of African countries more than $13 billion annually in debt payments. Booker states, "Africa's debt burden has led to a dramatic decline in human development indicators (such as life expectancy) and an increase in extreme poverty and has contributed to the loss of more than 16 million lives to AIDS." Although Booker praises the proposal for the General AIDS and Health Fund, he adds, "To suggest that Africa can even survive the onslaught of AIDS with a scattering of philanthropy, while continuing to pay far greater amounts to international financial institutions, is a cruel fantasy." Booker writes that debt cancellation is "affordable" and would "immediately permit a greater financial commitment from African governments to tackle" HIV/AIDS. "Unless the external debts of African countries are canceled outright this year, any overall strategy to defeat AIDS will surely fail," he writes (Booker, Los Angeles Times, 6/24).
- Los Angeles Times: Sunday's Times also featured a letter from Kabati Ishaya, an HIV-positive high school student from Nigeria, to the delegates at this week's U.N. session. In the letter, which was provided by UNICEF, Ishaya describes how HIV is spreading among young African girls. "I am the face of HIV/AIDS. There are millions more like me. If you don't act immediately, there will be millions more to come," she concludes (Ishaya, Los Angeles Times, 6/24).
- Philadelphia Inquirer: Although the world "seems to be coming to grips" with the AIDS epidemic -- with money and drug discounts "flowing" to developing nations -- "no one has figured out the smartest way to spend the money as it becomes available," columnist William Raspberry writes in a Philadelphia Inquirer op-ed. Raspberry states that although "most of the world knows how AIDS is spread, ... too many people go right on spreading it." He adds that although he supports funding to treat people with HIV, "it does seem clear that our spending won't be nearly as effective as it might be unless the leaders of the most devastated countries also undertake to change the behavior that spreads HIV." He concludes, "Money is necessary, but it isn't everything. In the long term, with a behavior-spawned plague like AIDS, it may not even be the most important thing" (Raspberry, Philadelphia Inquirer, 6/23).
- Washington Times: "While money alone will not solve the [HIV/AIDS] problem, it is a vital part of the solution, and funds earmarked for confronting the epidemic are currently much too low," World Bank President James Wolfensohn writes in a Washington Times op-ed. Wolfensohn states that the World Bank, in partnership with African governments, has launched the Multi-Country HIV/AIDS Program (MAP), which has given 10 African countries $500 million over the past year to help them "scale up effective prevention, care and treatment" efforts. He states that the World Bank plans to give an additional $500 million to 15 more African countries next year for the same purposes, and adds that the bank has also launched a $150 million fund to fight HIV/AIDS in the Caribbean and a $40 million effort to combat the disease in Bangladesh. Despite these efforts, "no one on its own -- not the bank, donor agencies, national governments, NGOs or the private sector -- will be able to provide the scale of money and support needed to engage HIV/AIDS at the global and country level and ultimately prevail," he writes. Wolfensohn states that the World Bank "strongly supports the establishment of the [Global AIDS and Health Fund] within the context of meeting the International Development Goals" that call for reductions in poverty and maternal, infant and child mortality. "Collectively we have the resources, and we surely have the need. All we lack is the political will," he concludes (Wolfensohn, Washington Times, 6/24).