Bush Offers Limited Options for Global HIV Prevention

In a Rose Garden ceremony last week, President Bush unveiled his International Mother and Child HIV Prevention Initiative, earmarking $500 million over the next five years to 12 African countries and a few Caribbean countries for reducing transmission of the HIV virus from mother to child. “Medical science gives us the power to save these young lives. Conscience demands we do so,” Bush said at the ceremony. However, he failed to mention his administration’s opposition three weeks prior to a $700 million bipartisan anti-AIDS funding bill as well as its role in cutting $300 million from the Frist-Helms measure, part of an emergency spending bill that would have made $500 million in anti-AIDS funding immediately available.

According to Paul Davis, director of government relations at Health Global Access Project: “[The administration is] claiming 500 million bucks, but that is claiming credit for monies that were passed by the United States Congress only over the strenuous objections of the White House”The sad reality is, the Bush announcement only has $300 million in it, which does not start to trickle out until 2003 and 2004.” Bush also has blocked $34 million in US funding to the United Nations Population Fund (UNPFA) which operates in over 130 countries across the globe providing maternal and child health programs, family planning programs, and programs aimed at the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases and HIV-AIDS. The UNFPA estimates that if the Bush administration manages to block the agency’s funding altogether, it could lead to as many as “2 million unwanted pregnancies, 800,000 induced abortions, 4,700 maternal deaths and 77,000 infant and child deaths.”

Also under attack is the influence of major pharmaceutical companies such as GlaxoSmithKline PLC (GSK), which recently sponsored a $30 million fundraiser for Bush and the Republican party. Critics argue that Bush’s HIV initiatives will protect the interests of his key donors and consequently, limit access to cost-effective, generic, AIDS-fighting drugs. The New York Times states that over 2,000 babies worldwide are infected with HIV every day during pregnancy, birth, or breast feeding. Already, 23 million people across the globe have died from HIV/AIDS. At present, 30 million of the 40 million people infected worldwide are African. HIV infection rates for Africa’s two most populous countries Nigeria and Ethiopia, with a combined population of 200 million, is expected to be around 20 percent by 2010. Botswana has a global high HIV infection rate of 40 percent.

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NY Times 6/20/02, 6/21/02; Associated Press 6/20/02; Inter Press Service 6/20/02; OneWorldUS 6/20/02

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