FROM COMBINED DISPATCHES
On the eve of a trip to Africa, where AIDS tops the agenda, President Bush yesterday named a former drug-company executive to head a $15 billion U.S. program to combat the disease abroad.
“Randy Tobias has a mandate directly from me to get our AIDS initiative up and running as soon as possible,” Mr. Bush told reporters at the White House. “We will set up a broad and efficient network to deliver drugs to the farthest reaches of Africa, even by motorcycle or bicycle.”
His appointment of Randall Tobias, the retired chairman and chief executive officer of Indianapolis-based Eli Lilly and Co., drew immediate criticism from AIDS activists, who said his connections to the pharmaceutical industry would raise conflicts of interest.
A conservative group yesterday also expressed concerns over Mr. Tobias’ appointment.
Mr. Bush leaves Monday on a five-day visit to Senegal, South Africa, Nigeria, Botswana and Uganda. The trip will focus on security and regional conflicts, economic development, promotion of democracy, and the fight against AIDS.
Mr. Tobias will hold the rank of ambassador, making his job subject to Senate confirmation. Critics predict he will face some opposition.
According to the United Nations’ UNAIDS agency, 42 million people are infected with HIV worldwide — 29.4 million of them in Africa.
Mr. Tobias, appearing in the Roosevelt Room with Mr. Bush, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and other U.S. officials, called AIDS statistics in Africa “nearly incomprehensible.”
“AIDS has already killed almost 20 million people in sub-Saharan Africa, where it is the number-one cause of death,” Mr. Tobias said. “And without intervention, it will claim the lives of one quarter of the population in the next decade.”
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, predicted yesterday that Mr. Tobias’ nomination will move quickly through the Senate.
Salih Booker, executive director of the Africa Action advocacy group, said Mr. Tobias’ appointment shows that Mr. Bush’s AIDS policy really lay “with the big drug companies.”
He criticized the administration for its trade policy blocking African access to lower-cost generic AIDS drugs and for failing to fully fund the $3 billion first-year installment of Mr. Bush’s AIDS initiative.
In May, Mr. Bush signed into law a $15 billion plan to help combat the disease in Africa and the Caribbean, tripling U.S. spending over five years.
Michael Schwartz, vice president for government relations at Concerned Women for America, a conservative Christian women’s group, used the occasion to praise Mr. Bush for articulating “a clear, bold vision” for the U.S. approach to the AIDS epidemic in Africa — rejecting the “failed condom-based method of the past” and focusing on the model Uganda used to decrease its AIDS infection rate. The Ugandan approach — also known as the A-B-C model — stresses abstinence first, then being faithful to one’s partner, and lastly, using condoms.
“CWA applauds Mr. Tobias for sharing the philosophies of this president and accepting the nomination to carry out this historic initiative to implement the Ugandan model,” Mr. Schwartz said.
But other conservative groups were not sure whether Mr. Tobias shares those views. The Family Research Council expressed concern over the White House pick.
“We are concerned that Mr. Tobias does not have a proven track record of supporting the effective strategies to combat AIDS,” said Connie Mackey, FRC’s vice president for government affairs. “The White House must ensure that Mr. Tobias follows the A-B-C model to combating AIDS.”
Staff writer Amy Fagan contributed to this report