Washington, DC — The Washington Office on Africa greeted the pledge for new funds to confront the AIDS pandemic in Africa by President George W. Bush in his State of the Union address last night with caution.
While welcoming the pledge of a five-year $15 billion initiative as a significant step forward, Executive Director Leon P. Spencer noted today that the minimal Bush administration commitment to the Global Fund to Fight HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, and the "notorious" US government stance on African access to affordable medicines, left him wary of the announcement.
"Based upon a fair US share to address the defined international need," Spencer said, "the US should have contributed $2.5 billion in the 2003 budget year, with around $1.2 billion going to the Global Fund, which it has failed abysmally to do. An appropriate US share in 2004 is $3.5 billion, and yet here is the President promising only $2 billion next year. Yes, these are significantly higher figures than the Bush administration has been prepared to consider before, but they remain inadequate."
Spencer also expressed concern that only $1 billion is promised the Global Fund out of the new money over the next five years. "Despite indications from the President's own National Security Council that the Global Fund is effective, he retains his unilateralist mentality and dooms this important international effort," Spencer declared.
The Washington Office on Africa joined with other advocacy advocates in appreciating Bush's comments about the importance of treatment. "Our hope is that significant funds will indeed be directed toward making medicines available" Spencer said. "If so, I will be intrigued to see the conditions," he added, "for the United States has worked intensively to protect pharmaceutical corporations while seeking to appear concerned about providing life-saving drugs to those truly in need."
The World Trade Organization, meeting in Doha in 2001, had agreed that public health should take precedence over pharmaceutical patents. But what was left unresolved was how African nations lacking capacity to manufacture their own "generic" drugs could obtain them from others more cheaply. In further negotiations, the US stood alone in blocking a Mexican-brokered deal which the rest of the world was prepared to endorse. "The Bush administration is determined to serve the interests of drug companies," Spencer claimed. "For Bush to say he believes denial of treatment is wrong is hopeful, but there are no grounds to trust this administration if a choice must be made between drug patents and African lives."
Spencer indicated a final concern over the President's State of the Union commitments. "He promises $15 billion over five years," Spencer remarked, "but $5 billion of that is not new money. Where is it going to come from? If the administration proposes reducing development assistance that addresses other pressing African needs, then this is not helpful for human development and poverty reduction in Africa."
"We have no quarrel with the substance of the Bush message last night," Spencer concluded. "He says he supports prevention and treatment for all that need it, that the massive tragedy of the AIDS pandemic is intolerable, and that the US should lead in this global effort. Excellent. If that means he accepts the wisdom of provision of generic drugs - which is the only way to make his numbers work - excellent. If that means he will provide significant new funds at once, excellent. If that means he will be prepared to lead in the global effort through multinational initiatives - implying that the US contribution to a Global Fund is negotiable upwards - excellent. With those interpretations, his remarks last night deserve our congratulations."
Note: The Washington Office on Africa is a church-sponsored advocacy organization seeking to articulate and promote a just American policy toward Africa. Founded in 1972 to support the movement for freedom from white-minority rule in southern Africa, WOA now has an expanded mission which seeks to address issues affecting grassroots African interests throughout the continent. We monitor Congressional legislation and executive policies and actions and issue action alerts to advance progressive legislation and policy. We seek to work in partnership with colleagues in Africa, the Africa advocacy community in the United States, and grassroots organizations concerned with various aspects of African affairs.