In Defense of Bush's AIDS Policy

Nancy K. Dutton

A conservative Republican simply cannot do right on the issue of HIV/AIDS—or at least that seems to be the opinion of the Harvard AIDS Coalition (HAC). In case you haven’t seen the HAC’s newest posters, they depict President George W. Bush in a fireman’s uniform, holding a severed hose in one hand and a pair of scissors in the other. The posters, which advertise today’s Science Center rally marking World AIDS Day, identify Bush as “Africa Action’s Most Wanted...For Fueling the Fire of AIDS.” How utterly tasteless—and totally absurd.

“I ask the Congress to commit $15 billion over the next five years, including nearly $10 billion in new money, to turn the tide against AIDS in the most afflicted nations of Africa and the Caribbean,” the president declared in his 2003 State of the Union address. He’s made this project a key element of his foreign-aid policy.

Should Congress pass the AIDS funding bills currently before it, the Bush administration will donate a minimum of $2.4 billion to the fight against AIDS in 2004. Yes, $2.4 billion does not fulfill the president’s $3 billion annual pledge. But given the costs of ongoing military action in Afghanistan and Iraq, it’s hardly a pittance. Moreover, it’s a significant increase over previous U.S. anti-AIDS spending and a strong foundation on which to build.

The Administration has often been faulted for its tepid relationship with the United Nations Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Conservatives are understandably wary of the organization, mostly because of its record of inefficiency, but also due to its history of allocating money for the regimes in Iran and North Korea. Yet if the aforementioned legislation is approved, Washington will give some $550 million to the U.N. Global Fund. The Administration has even sent Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson to lobby African business leaders to support the program (which Thompson now chairs).

The Bushies have also been attacked for their emphasis on the Ugandan model for combating AIDS. President Yoweri Museveni’s public relations campaign—known as the “A.B.C.” initiative, for “Abstain, Be faithful to your partner or use a Condom”—stresses behavioral change before it does condom use. Over the past dozen years, it has been tremendously successful. “In Uganda,” the Washington Post reported last Wednesday, “AIDS prevalence fell for the 12th consecutive year. In the capital city, Kampala, the rate is 8 percent, compared with 30 percent a decade ago.” True, condoms became a greater part of Kampala’s approach in the mid-1990s, but this was after the HIV rate had already started to drop precipitously.


Though some Western experts criticize the Ugandan paradigm as “moralizing,” it’s the only African anti-AIDS strategy that has actually worked. Bush is correct to identify it as an example for other countries to follow.

Even if the HAC doesn’t agree, their vicious impugning of the president’s motives is startling. Mind you, the HAC posters do not merely depict Bush fiddling while Africa burns; rather, they suggest that he is actively undermining efforts to combat African AIDS.

This despite Bush’s offering the richest, most sweeping AIDS-relief package in history. (Indeed, the president’s endeavor will reach 14 developing countries in Africa and the Caribbean.) Either the HAC doesn’t realize that fact or they’re just being insincere. Even if they are aware of Bush’s plan and consider it insufficient, that’s no excuse for such dishonest character assassination. The HAC should be embarrassed.

—Duncan M. Currie is an editorial editor.