Bush To Name Former Eli Lilly CEO as Head of Global AIDS Initiative
President Bush is scheduled this morning to name former chair and CEO of pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly Randall Tobias to head a new State Department office assigned to oversee the global AIDS initiative, according to unnamed government and outside sources, the Washington Post reports (Goldstein/Brown, Washington Post, 7/2). The expected announcement comes less than a week before Bush is scheduled to visit five African nations -- Senegal, South Africa, Botswana, Uganda and Nigeria -- to promote economic development and the fight against HIV/AIDS, including the five-year, $15 billion AIDS initiative (HR 1298), which authorizes $3 billion a year over five years for HIV/AIDS programs in Africa and the Caribbean, with up to $1 billion in fiscal year 2004 going to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 6/27). U.S. officials from several government departments and agencies have been working since February to develop a global AIDS bureau in the State Department to oversee the initiative, but work has been delayed by the lack of a coordinator, the Boston Globe reports (Donnelly, Boston Globe, 7/2). As the "global AIDS czar," Tobias would work under the secretary of state, and he would be able to distribute funds directly to nongovernmental organizations and transfer funds between government agencies, according to the Indianapolis Star (Indianapolis Star, 7/2). The position will carry the rank of ambassador (Reuters, 7/1). Joseph O'Neill, head of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy, is also expected to take a position in the new State Department office (Washington Post, 7/2).
While the move surprised some AIDS advocates and officials who had expected a "higher-profile" person to be appointed to the post, U.S. officials said that the Bush administration was drawn to Tobias's business record (Boston Globe, 7/2). Paul Zeitz, executive director of the Global AIDS Alliance, on Tuesday applauded "the idea of bringing someone from a business background" to work on the initiative but questioned Tobias' knowledge of both AIDS and Africa (Indianapolis Star, 7/2). Zeitz predicted that Tobias could face opposition in Congress due to his connection to Eli Lilly. "We're seriously concerned that there is a potential conflict of interest here. Is he going to give up his stock? How are we going to ensure he's not looking out for his buddies in the pharmaceutical industry," Zeitz said, adding that he thinks Tobias may be more inclined to purchase patented antiretroviral drugs over cheaper generic versions (Reuters, 7/1). Sandra Thurman, president of the International AIDS Trust and director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy during the Clinton administration, called the selection of Tobias "good news," adding that he is a person of "tremendous stature and management acumen" (Washington Post, 7/2). An associate of Tobias who asked not to be identified said, "He doesn't want to have any comment until after the Senate confirmation has been completed." Senate confirmation could take up to two months, according to the Globe (Boston Globe, 7/2).
A video excerpt of CNN's coverage of Bush's announcement is available online in RealPlayer.
WAMU's "Kojo Nnamdi Show" yesterday discussed Bush's upcoming trip to Africa with Charlie Cobb, senior writer and diplomatic correspondent for AllAfrica.com, and J. Stephen Morrison, director of the Africa Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (Nnamdi, "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," WAMU, 7/1). The full program is available online in RealPlayer. In addition, National Security Council Director for African Affairs Dr. Jendayi Frazer will answer questions today at 2:30 p.m. ET in the online interactive forum "Ask the White House." A transcript of the chat will be available online after the discussion.