News Analysis

The Bush administration’s commitment to assist African nations in their battle against the AIDS epidemic is increasingly open to question.

Despite Bush’s announcement of a five-year, $15 billion “Emergency Relief Plan for AIDS” during his 2003 State of the Union address, the White House requested only $2 billion from Congress for such aid in 2004, one-third less than originally projected. In the end, Congress upped that figure to about $2.4 billion.

The $3 billion annual figure is unlikely to be achieved due to intensified “federal budget restraints,” observers say.

The crisis has certainly not become any less severe. The AIDS epidemic claimed an estimated 2.3 million lives in 2004 in sub-Saharan Africa alone, where some 25.4 million people are infected. A geographical area that contains only 10 percent of the world population is also home to a startling 60 percent of the people on the planet living with HIV.

South Africa has the highest number of people living with HIV in the world, an estimated 5.3 million people, over half of them women. Very high rates of infection are also prevalent in Swaziland and Botswana.

Average life expectancy in Africa has fallen 15 years over the past two decades. Of 25 million AIDS deaths worldwide, 18 million have been African.

Bush’s plan was described, in his own words, as “a work of mercy beyond all current international efforts to help the people of Africa … to turn the tide against AIDS in the most afflicted nations of Africa and the Caribbean.”

Such words ring hollow today. Although he reaped a harvest of public relation brownie points in an election year, Bush has done little to “turn the tide against AIDS.” The shortfall in promised aid will only mean more death and suffering on the continent.

Along similar lines, the $6 billion “Millennium Challenge Account” announced by Bush on March 14, 2002, has been slow getting off the ground. The fund’s declared purpose is to promote economic development and poverty reduction in selected African nations.

Once again, the promised amount that made the headlines has not materialized. A recent New York Times editorial titled “America, the indifferent” describes how Bush has not matched promises with action: “The administration didn’t even ask Congress for the full $1.7 billion the first year, it asked for $1.3 billion, which Congress cut to $1 billion. The next year the administration asked for $2.5 billion and got $1.5 billion. … Worst of all, the account has yet to disperse a single dollar.”

Or take the issue of U.S. foreign aid to end world poverty: The UN-sponsored International Conference on Financing for Development in Monterrey, Mexico, in 2002, arrived at a consensus that member nations should “make concrete efforts towards the target of 0.7 percent of gross national product as ODA [official development assistance] to developing countries.”

The U.S. is lagging way behind the agreed-upon pledge, contributing only a lackluster 0.2 percent of the GNP to fight the reality of world poverty. Comparing the U.S. government’s $450 billion annual military expenditure with its $15 billion for world poverty assistance, a striking 30-1 ratio, one has to marvel at the cynicism of the U.S. foreign policy elite.

The Africa’s Right to Health Campaign is a project of Africa Action, an advocacy organization. The campaign’s objectives include equal access to drugs and treatment for all who need them; unconditional cancellation of Africa’s illegitimate foreign debts; an end to World Bank-IMF neo-colonialism; an end to discrimination on the basis of race, gender, HIV status and sexual orientation; and the promotion of a public discourse on reparations for Africa.

The campaign states, “We are also working to dramatically increase U.S. funding to fight HIV/AIDS in Africa. We believe HIV/AIDS is the most urgent global threat to human security and that responding to this crisis is the greatest moral challenge of our time.”