U.N. Special Session on HIV/AIDS Provides African Nations with ‘New Determination’ to Fight the Disease
While the U.N. General Assembly special session on HIV/AIDS included three days of "tumultuous meetings," when the conference ended Wednesday, African leaders -- "often at odds and sometimes at war" -- had "come together to dominate the session" with a "markedly new determination to fight the disease that has decimated their homelands," the New York Times reports (Crossette, New York Times, 6/28). The Wall Street Journal also reports that the fight against HIV/AIDS has provided African governments with "an opportunity to pull themselves together in ways that could some day lift them" out of an economic "rut" (Phillips, Wall Street Journal, 6/28). African leaders and international health experts said that the U.N. session on HIV/AIDS, as well as a "summit-level meeting" of Africans in April, has helped halt efforts from some leaders to "obscure mounting evidence that AIDS was spreading rapidly." In addition, the meetings have provided African leaders with "numerous proposals" for fighting HIV and "taking a new look at shortcomings in national development" (New York Times, 6/28). Western nations' foundations and companies "are getting out their checkbooks" for the Global AIDS and Health Fund, in hopes of raising $7 billion to $10 billion a year to combat AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis in developing nations, the Journal reports. However, a "panel of experts" will "pass judgment on each expenditure," which will require African nations to "do something they haven't done much recently" -- develop and enact health programs "quickly, efficiently and honestly" (Wall Street Journal, 6/28). Mark Malloch Brown, administrator of the U.N. Development Program, said that the global AIDS fund will put African nations and donors "out on a long limb" (New York Times, 6/28). While Malloch Brown predicted that the global AIDS effort would "succeed," the Journal asks, "[W]hat if African governments ... fritter away huge sums through corruption and clumsiness?" Malloch Brown answered that the region would become a "pariah for donors" (Wall Street Journal, 6/28).
The Annan Factor
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who organized the global AIDS fund, has led a campaign to "raise the consciousness" of Africans on a number of trips and in reports. He has "spoken out against stigmatization and denial in dealing with AIDS" and has urged African governments to "make themselves attractive to investors rather than blaming the global economy for all their economic ills." Gro Harlem Brundtland, director-general of the World Health Organization, said that "rising international attention to Africa," including campaigns for less-expensive AIDS drugs, debt cancellation and "significant aid to weak public health systems," has also buoyed African efforts. In addition, she said that the "falling price" of "vital" drugs has "given many African health officials new hope," pointing out that recent meetings on AIDS have "elevated" the disease to an issue of national security and forced government leaders to recognize the "importance of the disease." Still, several African leaders pointed out that "huge obstacles" remain.
Meanwhile, the Times reports that "missing from this united effort and open debate was President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa," the nation with the largest HIV-infected population. According to the Times, his "absence was widely noticed and described as inexplicable." Mbeki sent South African Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang to the special session. In a speech, Tshabalala-Msimang "alluded" to Mbeki's "questions about what causes AIDS and whether priority should be given to antiretroviral drugs in dealing with the epidemic." Doctors Without Borders founder Bernard Kouchner, minister of health in France, said that "intellectual resistance to what are seen as western prescriptions is not new" and he predicted that the "controversy generated by Mbeki will fade" (New York Times, 6/25).