One of the most respected newspapers in the United States, the New York Times, has called on the Bush administration to fulfill its promise to help Africa fight the AIDS menace. If it doesn’t, the paper says, then the administration would have used President George Bush’s much-publicised African safari “as nothing more than a photo opportunity”.
In an editorial entitled Betraying the Sick in Africa, the paper said though President Bush had promised US$15 billion over five years to fight AIDS in at least a dozen African countries, none of the money had so far been disbursed. Though the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and other US agencies support AIDS programmes in Zimbabwe, including advocacy, Zimbabwe will not benefit from the US$15 billion package.
The package was announced at the beginning of the year but the administration keeps coming up with excuses. It says the Bush administration is mired in its own bureaucracy and is currently arguing that it cannot disburse any money because the office of the AIDS coordinator – and Africa itself- are not ready.
Likening this to an old joke about a man who kills his parents and then begs the court for mercy because he is an orphan, the paper says this is nonsense. ” The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria is besieged with excellent vetted proposals from African nations desperate to fight AIDS. Multiple billions could be effectively spent on AIDS prevention and treatment and help for orphans. And countries that lack the ability to run good programmes need money to build that capacity. But the Global Fund is too broke to help. If the administration cannot overcome its mysterious distaste for this organisation, it could simply take some of the country proposals and finance them directly,” the paper says.
“Several top Republicans, including President Bush and the Senate majority leader, Bill Frist, have recently been to Africa, where they hugged orphans and visited the dying. If they break America’s promise on AIDS, they will be cynically using suffering Africans as nothing more than a photo opportunity,” it says.
Some observers have said that though the amount the US intends to give sounds good on paper, very little is likely to trickle down to Africa. Most of the money is likely to find its way back to the United States to buy antiretrovirals and to hire consultancy organisations. Besides, the United States administration is likely to cut down the amount that will be disbursed.
Critics of the Bush Administration’s stance on aids and on the Global Fund for Aids say while the administration has disbursed only US$200 to the fund, it is spending US$3.9 billion a month on the Iraq war, which is about US$130 million a day. “The $200 million US Global Fund contribution proposed by Bush for one year thus amounts to little more than 32 hours of war expenses in Iraq.”