Lawmakers, HIV/AIDS Activists React to Bush Proposal to Dedicate $500M to Fighting Mother-to-Child HIV Transmission in Africa, Caribbean
Lawmakers and HIV/AIDS activists yesterday reacted to President Bush's proposal to spend $500 million over the next three years on reducing mother-to-child transmission of HIV in Africa and the Caribbean, the Boston Globe reports (Donnelly, Boston Globe, 6/20). According to the Washington Post, the $500 million includes $200 million for international HIV/AIDS spending recently approved by the Senate in a fiscal year 2002 supplemental spending bill, which administration officials said would be spent over this year and FY 2003, with Bush planning to request $300 million in his FY 2004 budget request next year (DeYoung/Blustein, Washington Post, 6/20). UNAIDS estimates that 800,000 infants worldwide were infected with HIV last year through vertical transmission, the incidence of which has been shown to be greatly reduced by the use of antiretroviral drugs such as nevirapine (Russell, San Francisco Chronicle, 6/20). "Medical science gives us the power to save these young lives. Conscience demands we do so," Bush said in a Rose Garden ceremony yesterday morning (Robinson, Miami Herald, 6/20). Government health experts estimate that the new initiative, which will focus on distributing drugs and improving health care delivery systems, will prevent HIV infection in 146,000 children in 12 African countries -- Botswana, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mozambique, Rwanda, South Africa, Uganda, Namibia, Nigeria, Tanzania and Zambia -- and the Caribbean nations of Guyana and Haiti (Hutcheson, Knight Ridder/Newark Star-Ledger, 6/20). Bush's announcement was met with mixed reviews, with some calling the plan a good step toward reducing HIV/AIDS and others saying it does not go far enough (Stolberg, New York Times, 6/20). "It probably isn't enough, but it's more than what they were willing to commit to before today," Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) said, adding, "So I'm encouraged that there is a growing awareness of the extraordinary devastation that is under way ... and I think it's important that we recognize our responsibilities (Mikkelsen, Reuters/Detroit Free Press, 6/20). A coalition of AIDS advocacy groups, including ACT UP and the Global AIDS Alliance, held a press conference outside a Bush fundraiser last night labelling the new initiative as a "sham" and saying that $2.5 billion is need to fight HIV/AIDS internationally (ACT UP release, 6/19).
The following are statements from individuals in reaction to Bush's announcements:
- Bono, lead singer of U2 and founder of the group Debt, AIDS, Trade for Africa: "The promise of more money to stop AIDS is always a welcome step, but this crisis urgently demands an historic presidential AIDS initiative. This isn't it, but could be the beginning of it if swiftly scaled up into a comprehensive strategy outlining more resources for prevention, care, treatment and deeper debt cancellation," he said (DATA release, 6/19).
- Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.): "The president's proposal misses the mark in three important ways -- first, it does not add one dime to the most effective AIDS funding mechanism," the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, Durbin said. Second, "despite the fact that the AIDS problem will grow dramatically next year, the president's plan doesn't propose any new money for 2003." Finally, the plan is a "narrowly tailored program to prevent mother-to-child [HIV] transmission, rather than a comprehensive approach which focuses on prevention, care and treatment," Durbin said (Durbin release, 6/19).
- Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases: Addressing the question of why the Bush initiative does not target adult-to-adult transmission, Fauci said that "in order to provide therapy for adults who are already infected for the period of time -- essentially, indefinitely -- you would need a health care infrastructure that just doesn't exist right now." He added, "What we're saying is that right now we can have an impact on spread from mother to child at the same time we're participating in a more comprehensive program of building up infrastructure to be able to treat people so that you can keep mother and father alive" (Ifill, "Newshour with Jim Lehrer," PBS, 6/19).
- Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.): Praising Bush's announcement, Kolbe said, "We must remember that for all the devastation the AIDS epidemic has already caused, it is still in its early stages. The president is challenging us to focus on preventing its spread and mitigating its impact on families in the most seriously affected communities in Africa and the Caribbean" (Kolbe release, 6/19).
- Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.): "President Bush's proposal is not new money, falls short of the $2.5 billion needed this year to mount a comprehensive strategy to fight these disease and will force a dispute about which global AIDS programs should be funded," Lee said (Lee release, 6/19).
- Advocates for Youth: "Preventing transmission of HIV from mother to child is a very important area of prevention investment," James Wagoner, the organization's president, said. But "[o]ne can only wonder whether the administration is focusing on mother-to-child transmission to avoid the reality that effective prevention involves safer sex practices, specifically condom use. 'Condom-phobia' in the White House is getting in the way of sound common sense and effective public health strategies" (Advocates for Youth release, 6/19).
- Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation: "The foundation applauds President Bush and the administration for recognizing the important role that programs to prevent mother-to-child transmission play in the global pandemic, and for committing additional resources to help meet this critical need," Kate Carr, the foundation's president and CEO, said, adding, "Until we prevent the 800,000 new infections in children each year, more can and must be done." The foundation "worked closely" with the administration on the proposal (Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation release, 6/19).
- Global AIDS Alliance: "President Bush has undercut, yet again, bipartisan momentum toward spending on global AIDS that would make a real difference," Paul Zeitz, the alliance's executive director, said, adding, "The fact is, the U.S. has ample resources to help fight global AIDS. Yet, sadly, the president still seems unprepared to provide a truly balanced and fully funded plan" (Global AIDS Alliance release, 6/19).
- Human Rights Campaign: In a letter to Bush urging him to spend more on HIV/AIDS efforts both domestically and abroad, HRC political director Winnie Stachelberg wrote, "We believe that our nation must use its finite resources to battle this epidemic in a comprehensive and strategic manner ... While we provide much-needed assistance to foreign nations to combat the tragedy of global AIDS, we must never forget the tragedies that occur each day in our own nation" (Human Rights Campaign release, 6/19).