Monday, July 5, 2004

The HIV/AIDS epidemic has become so pervasive in some parts of the world that it has evolved from a humanitarian concern into a security threat in the eyes of top U.S. officials.

Speaking at the NATO summit in Istanbul, Turkey, last week, President Bush said: “We face the challenge of corruption and poverty and disease, which throw whole nations into chaos and despair. These are the conditions in which terrorism can survive.” AIDS is causing this wreckage in entire continents and regions, and is in turn exacerbating poverty in already desperate areas.

Outgoing CIA Director George J. Tenet said last year that AIDS “threatens to rob South Africa of generations of leaders and workers, of farmers and educators — with devastating effects on economies and societies. Is this a security issue? You bet it is.” About three months ago, U.S. and Vietnamese military officials met in Hanoi — not to discuss defense issues, but rather the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS.

On Thursday, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Operations, chaired by Sen. Mitch McConnell, will propose how much should be spent on preventing AIDS and other diseases worldwide. Mr. Bush should be commended for proposing an increase next year in overall spending on AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, from a total of $2.4 billion to $2.8 billion. Still, last year’s spending and this year’s proposal come up short of the $3 billion a year in funding that Congress and the president had proposed spending over the next five years.

Also unfortunate is a significant decrease in proposed funding for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. While $546 million was contributed last year, this year the president has proposed sending only $200 million. Mr. McConnell has the opportunity to increase this amount to at least match last year’s level. U.S. contributions to the fund have an exponential effect on funding, since other countries feel greater pressure to do their part, said David Bryden, communications director for the Global AIDS Alliance.

Health workers around the world have been impressed with the performance of the fund. In its July newsletter, the Global AIDS Alliance published an interview with Dr. Simon Mphuka, director of programs for the Churches Health Association of Zambia. Working with the fund allows physicians and others to cut “big intermediary steps,” he said. Mr. Mphuka said the fund’s resources represent “a big opportunity for faith-based groups.”

The Bush administration has identified the security threat AIDS has become and has bolstered America’s commitment to combat the disease. It should also leverage the opportunity of pressuring other countries to contribute their share by giving generously to the Global Fund.

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