- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 28, 2001

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan is hopeful about the future of the pandemic of HIV-AIDS. "Never since the nightmare began," Mr. Annan said in his address to the U.N. General Special Session on HIV/AIDS in New York, "has there been such a moment of common purpose." And this is true. The purpose of the assembled delegations is quite clear. Dissent, however, arises when the question turns to method.
Islamic groups and the Vatican refuse to target at-risk populations or endorse any method of contraception, while there are endless nuances in the various plans advanced calling for international funding, debt relief and price caps on prescription drugs. It is universally understood that for the crippled economies of those countries most heavily afflicted with HIV and AIDS to stem the tide of the disease, increased funding must come from somewhere. But then, at the question of allocation, the consensus again breaks down. While some delegates emphasize research and vaccines, others favor public education, condoms and counseling programs. Either way, the funds simply aren't there now.
In his address on Monday, Secretary of State Colin Powell appealed for international financial contributions, reminding the delegation of the $200 million President Bush pledged last month, and yesterday the House International Relations Committee approved a $1.36 billion global HIV-AIDS-funding bill. U.S. aid, Mr. Powell said, is intended as "seed money will help generate billions more from donors around the world."
But the most important thing to remember is that curbing the spread of HIV/AIDS is not like building a dam or repairing a road. It is not a problem that will go away if money is thrown at it. Surely, with the bankrupt treasuries in countries such as Ghana and Nigeria, no progress will be made without adequate funding.
Still, whatever money is given to Africa must be allocated with care, and there are many necessary prerequisites to obtain that aid. If you listen to George Ayittey, president of the Free Africa Foundation, you hear a more sober-minded analysis than the interminable speech parade of the United Nations. "Western countries can help, but Africans need to do more," Mr. Ayittey advises. In essence, his message is about accountability: "Our governments need to get serious."
Indeed, entire villages of women are raped as soldiers pass through, spreading the disease as they go and pregnant mothers, in turn, passing the virus on to their children. Also, corrupt governments have bankrupted treasuries (witness Nigeria and the missing $100 billion in oil revenues). Corruption, then, must be stamped out. Mr. Ayittey also calls for a reform in the African cultural attitude that takes a squeamish, non-confrontational approach to addressing sexual behavior.
Funding to Africa is necessary and urgent. However, it must follow the lead of governmental and cultural reform. Wars must end, infrastructures must be built and attitudes must change. Then, as a joint effort, real progress can be made.

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