Wall Street Chicanery Killing Africans, Spreading AIDS

Okay, that’s an unlikely headline, and not only because of the word chicanery.

But it could have been applied to a heart-rending and disturbing New York Times report Monday that claims we are losing the battle against AIDS worldwide. The subtext is that the global economic slowdown — or “Great Recession,” largely caused by the collapse of schemes perpetrated by American finance whizzes – is having a life-and-death impact on the very poor.

In Uganda, journalist Donald G. McNeil Jr. notes that 90 percent of all AIDS drugs in this African country are paid for by foreign assistance funding. Much of that funding has come from the U.S., from projects like PEPFAR as well as from international initiatives like the Global Fund for AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

But now because of the economic downturn, governments and other donors are either planning to reduce donations or keep them flat. The Obama Administration’s proposed new Global Health Initiative, which promises some $63 billion over six years, appears to de-emphasize AIDS spending in favor of “mother and child” health concerns. Other donors, like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, also appear to want to put what money they have in different directions as well.

Sounds penny wise and deadly pound-foolish. Putting people on anti-HIV drugs has been shown to reduce the spread of the infection. The epidemic is not going to simply take a break as the world adjusts its spending priorities. The AIDS pandemic is still on the increase and the number of people needing AIDS drugs is increasing as well. For every two people put on drugs, another five are infected. Of an estimated 14 million people in poor countries who need the medications, only about four million now get them.

Experts say something like $30 billion is needed today worldwide (the drugs in Uganda cost about $100 per person per year, or about $11,000 for a lifetime of care). That’s about three times what is being spent now to fight AIDS globally. And it sounds like a lot, until you consider the $995 billion economic bailout just approved by the EU for basket-case Greece. There is a lot of talk these days about changing the U.S. approach to foreign assistance and development policy. A short-shrift on global AIDS funding is not a hopeful sign.

Tom

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