AIDS Activists Reject President Bush’s Global AIDS Victory Claims: Lies on Speed of Spending, Lies on Prevention, and Lies on Access to Cheap Medicines
27 June 2004 (Health GAP Coalition)
(Philadelphia) President Bush claimed dramatic victories and programmatic enhancements in the battle against HIV/AIDS in a speech at a Philadelphia church. According to Health GAP, these claims are dangerously misleading - rather than responding proportionately to the worldwide AIDS pandemic, the Bush Administration continues to under-fund global need, to impose failed prevention policies, and to place road-blocks on access to the cheapest AIDS medicines.
"President Bush claims that he has mounted an emergency response, but 4.5 million people have died of AIDS since his State of the Union Address in Jan. 2001," said Sharonann Lynch of Health GAP. "Rather than investing heavily in immediate treatment and prevention services and in expanding health care capacity in poor countries, Bush has adopted a go slow approach which thus far has only disbursed a fraction of promised resources, less than $350 million of the paltry $2.4 billion appropriated for FY2004," Lynch continued. "Although he’s promising to release another $500 million ’shortly,’ in the meantime real people are dying," Lynch concluded.
Activists claim that the $15 billion promised by Bush over a five year period represents only half of the U.S. fair share of $30 billion needed to meet global need. They also claim that he is bypassing the multilateral Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria, which will be functionally bankrupt as of 2005 because of dramatic reductions in U.S. donations (down to $200 million/year). "Bush is not investing in medical infrastructure in Africa or elsewhere," said Paul Davis of Health GAP. "Moreover, his five year plan to treat only 2 million people means that 13-15 million people with AIDS while die during that same time period. How is that a compassionate and emergent response?" Davis asked.
In addition to criticizing Bush’s delayed spending, Health GAP challenged the efficacy of Bush’s emphasis on abstinence only prevention messages. "Each and every scientific discovery conducted thus far has found that abstinence-only messages are less effective in preventing HIV and STDs than more balanced messages that also promote proper use of condoms," said Asia Russell of Health GAP. "Couples in Africa have access to 4.6 condoms a year - how can we argue that condoms aren’t effective, when we refuse to supply them in meaningful quantities?"
The U.S. choice of Vietnam as a 15th focus country is also controversial according to Health GAP. "The U.S. focuses most of its resources on just handful of countries rather than the hundred worldwide that tottering toward disaster," said Laurie Wen of Health GAP. "There’s nothing wrong with addressing the escalating HIV epidemic in Vietnam, but what about India which has 50 times as many people living with HIV or what about China or Thailand? It makes no sense for the U.S. to bypass multilateral institutions like the Global Fund that countries like Vietnam rely and then to superimpose its own unilateral programs with all their conditionalities and restrictions," Wen said. "The pandemic in Vietnam, like that in Thailand is largely driven by intravenous drug use and infection among sex workers. Yet, the U.S. program, unlike the Global Fund, prohibits harm reduction programs like needle exchange and restricts condom use. If we’re going to choose countries, let’s at least do something that actually helps."
Also, the activist group disputes the claims made by the White House fact sheet released today, concerning U.S. plans to allow expedited access to low-cost, easy to use AIDS medicines. "The WHO Prequalification Process has already approved nearly 90 AIDS drugs nearly half of which are manufactured by Indian generics. Rather than authorize purchase of these pre-qualified drugs, the U.S. has set up a redundant process and took 18 months to do even that," said Brook Baker of Health GAP. "Moreover, the FDA process will not be open to the newest AIDS medicines because of data protections rules that prevent even tentative approval during the first five years of a new proprietary medicine," continued Baker, a law professor at Northeastern University School of Law. "Finally, the U.S. is negotiating intellectual property protections in its free trade agreements with developing countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America which prevent countries from using cheaper generic medicines - expanded patent rights and enhanced protection of proprietary companies’ clinical data will deal a death knell to treatment access," according to Baker.
Bush’s AIDS speech comes three weeks before the XV International AIDS Conference in Bangkok and just one day before a Global Day of Action against U.S. AIDS Policies called by the Treatment Action Campaign of South Africa. Tomorrow, activists in a dozen countries and a dozen U.S. cities will be protesting U.S. policy and challenging Bush’s claim to leadership on the AIDS issue.