Helping Africa?

The Ugly Truth about Bush's AIDS Plan

Revolutionary Worker #1208, July 27, 2003, posted at

"This is the deadliest enemy Africa has ever faced, and you will not face this enemy alone," U.S. President Bush said in a toast to Botswana's president, Festus Mogae, during his recent trip to Africa.

Bush would have been telling the truth if he had meant that, in addition to facing the deadly AIDS epidemic, the African continent also has to face another enemy: a global imperialist system that has im- poverished the continent through austerity measures pushed by global financial institutions, prevented access to needed medication, and failed miserably to meet the needs of poor countries in the face of the massive health care crisis of HIV/ AIDS in Africa.

In Botswana, which has the highest rate of HIV/AIDS infection in the world, 38% of all citizens between 18 and 49 are infected with the virus. The average life expectancy in the country has fallen to less than 40 years. Botswana recently had to cut funding to prevent mother-child AIDS transmission because promised U.S. funds failed to materialize.

Around the world, 65 million people have been infected with the HIV virus (which causes AIDS) and 25 million have died from AIDS--the majority in sub-Saharan Africa. In the African continent there are 14 million orphans from AIDS. In the U.S. and other wealthy nations, many HIV-infected people have access to life-saving anti-retroviral drugs that enable people to live for an extended period of time with a high quality of life. In Africa, less than one percent of medically eligible Africans have access to these drugs.

A centerpiece of Bush's Africa trip was to hype his $15 billion global AIDS program. Bush said, "We are not only a powerful nation, we're also a compassionate nation."

The leader of the most powerful and richest nation on earth, which stood on the sidelines for years as the AIDS epidemic developed, whose trade representatives did all that they could to prevent access to medication that could have saved millions of lives, now travels to the countries at the center of the epidemic to lecture them about the importance of fighting AIDS!

But what about the Bush plan? Is the U.S. finally coming to its senses and recognizing its responsibility to help stop the AIDS epidemic? The answer is no.

The Truth About the Bush AIDS Plan

Pretty much every aspect of Bush's $15 billion program is a lie, starting with the amount of money allocated for the program. Congress approved spending up to $3 billion per year over the next five years, however, so far the amount actually appropriated has been far less. In fact, Bush initially requested only $450 million in AIDS money from Congress for this year. And now it appears that Congress will appropriate $1.3 billion for the global AIDS fight in 2004--still less than half the amount Bush continuously says the U.S. is contributing.

Furthermore, one-third of funds allocated for prevention (as opposed to treatment) must go to programs that promote abstinence only (i.e., that don't advocate condom use). Bush and the U.S. are imposing their fundamentalist Christian values on the people of Africa despite the fact that, according to Dr. Paul Zeitz, Executive Director of Global AIDS, "There is no scientific evidence that abstinence only programs are effective in reducing HIV transmissions."

Under Bush's plan the vast majority of funds must go through U.S. agencies, which are designed to serve the economic and political interests of the U.S. And maintaining direct control of the funds the U.S. contributes to fighting AIDS allows the U.S. government to use these funds as political and economic blackmail. One outrageous example: With the lives of millions in the balance, the Global AIDS Bill requires that countries that receive AIDS funds from the U.S. be required to import genetically modified grains.

The U.S. has filed suit with the World Trade Organization against countries which have barred the export of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).* Many nations do not want to accept GMO crops because such products have not been proven safe, and GMOs have the potential to contaminate the environment and spread to non-GMO crops. Recently the Monsanto Corporation introduced the first GMO wheat, known as "Round-Up Ready Spring Wheat." The U.S--a major wheat exporter--is pushing hard in various trade agreements to have countries agree to accept the "franken- wheat."

Bush has nominated Randall Tobias as his Global AIDS Coordinator, to administer the anti-AIDS programs. Tobias has no experience working on AIDS or in Africa. However, he is a former executive with the giant pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly.

Dr. Zeitz of Global AIDS said, "We are concerned that he (Tobias) will be focusing on patent protection of patented drugs produced by the American pharmaceutical industry." The pharmaceutical industry has worked to stop countries from producing cheap generic versions of the expensive antiretroviral drugs that the companies--including Eli Lilly--manufacture. The pharmaceutical industry even went to court to stop the South African government from producing or importing the generic drugs.

The Bush plan only addresses a small number of the countries in need. Only 14 countries in the world get aid under the other Bush plan. Twelve of the covered countries are in sub-Saharan Africa. However these 12 countries make up only 25% of 48 sub-Saharan countries that desperately need assistance. The other two countries (Guyana and Haiti) are in the Caribbean. No countries in South America or Asia receive any funding under Bush's plan, despite the recognition that the next wave of the global epidemic is already being felt in China, Russia and India.

Funds for the U.S. AIDS/HIV initiative are being taken out of needed international health programs such as child immunization, maternal health and infectious disease control. Funding for these programs will be reduced by $146 million in 2004.

Southern Africa Free Trade Agreement

On November 4, 2002 the U.S. announced plans to negotiate a "free trade agreement" with the nations of the South African Customs Union (SACU): Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa and Swaziland. This free trade agreement is modeled on NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement.

As part of this free trade agreement, the U.S. is pushing for much tighter controls on "intellectual property rights," including patents for pharmaceuticals like AIDS/HIV medicine. In particular the U.S. is pushing to ban exports of generically produced medicine. This would prevent, for example, South Africa from producing generic AIDS/HIV medicine and exporting it to other countries even if a health emergency exists in the importing country. Since many African countries lack the manufacturing capacity to produce pharmaceuticals, this provision would be a blow to efforts of many countries to access needed low-cost drugs to address the epidemic.

In an open letter to Bush, the group Health Global Access Project wrote: "The intellectual property measures likely included in a U.S.-Southern Africa Free Trade Agreement will work to delay the entry of generics, and defer the day when consumers and procurement agencies can reap the benefits of generic competition. This threatens to impede dramatically the effort to provide treatment to people with HIV/AIDS, with devastating consequence for millions... For the majority of the region's population, higher prices induced ...a U.S.-Southern Africa free trade agreement will simply mean they go without essential medications."

Cold Cold-Hearted

The U.S. and other imperialist powers act as though they have just become aware of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa. In fact, these powers have known of the developing crisis for many years and ignored the crisis at a time when assistance could have greatly reduced its impact.

An article in the Washington Post quoted the author of a 1991 CIA report on the AIDS epidemic in Africa. The report predicted the trajectory that the epidemic would take in the 1990s. The author said that one military colleague at the National Intelligence Council told him, "Oh, it will be good, because Africa is overpopulated anyway."

Other imperialist institutions showed a similar lack of concern for the growing AIDS epidemic in Africa. After comparing the potential for death from the AIDS epidemic in Africa with the bubonic plague that struck Europe in the 14th century, a June 1992 report by the World Bank's population and human resources department wrote that AIDS might benefit Africa economically: "If the only effect of the AIDS epidemic were to reduce the population growth rate, it would increase the growth rate of per capita income in any plausible economic model."

The global imperialist economy has forced African countries into extreme poverty and debt, which has exacerbated the AIDS epidemic. In 2001 African countries paid $14.6 billion in debt payments to the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and wealthy nations. This represents about 5% of the region's total income and more than these countries spend collectively for health care or education.

The global economy is estimated to be $30 trillion. Roughly one-third of that-- $10 trillion--is controlled by the U.S. Yet the U.S. and the global community have not come up with the estimated $10 billion a year that experts say is needed immediately to begin to address the epidemic. What stands in the way of allocation of the needed resources to stop one of the most horrific epidemics of our time? A system based on private property, which values its profits more than the lives of tens of millions.

The lives of millions and millions of our sisters and brothers hang in the balance. Another world is possible.

* Genetically modified organisms are organisms whose genetic makeup has been directly altered by humans. Many of an organism's traits are determined by genetic information encoded in its DNA. DNA forms a hereditary code that is carried in each cell of each organism. The process of genetic modification involves identifying the portions of DNA that are responsible for a particular trait in one organism, extracting or copying these DNA sequences, and then introducing them into a different organism (either directly, or using "vectors," such as parts of bacteria or viruses). The aim is to change the traits or functions of the recipient organism, and the result is a genetically modified organism (GMO).

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