- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 10, 2004

At 82, with 38 years as head of the Motion Picture Association of America and three years in the Johnson White House behind him, Jack Valenti knows what he is going to do with the rest of his life: help the global fight against HIV/AIDS.

“I couldn’t think of anything more worthwhile than to get involved in this pandemic … to try to make a tiny difference,” the silver-tongued lobbyist said at a June 3 reception officially announcing his position as president of the Friends of the Global Fight, a new nonprofit group dedicated to educating the American public about the deadly effect of the disease in the world’s most impoverished nations.

Mr. Valenti’s extensive film industry contacts have already been put to use. Prior to officially joining the cause, he enlisted actor Tom Hanks to narrate the brief film on HIV/AIDS that was shown to the crowd of congressman, diplomats, businessmen, government officials and medical professionals gathering somewhat incongruously in the art-filled ballroom of lawyer C. Boyden Gray’s Georgetown mansion.

“Imagine 23 full-loaded 747s crashing every day — that’s AIDS,” Mr. Valenti said as footage of horribly wasted and dying African victims filled the screen. “We have to raise awareness of what is being done to combat this terrible disease … and get ordinary people involved.”

No one missed the point, especially after Richard Feachem, executive director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, intoned statistics of “the greatest disaster in human history,” an ever-worsening “global holocaust” with 40 million infected with HIV/AIDS worldwide and five million dead each year.

The Global Fund, the largest multilateral effort to combat HIV/AIDS, will likely be the chief beneficiary of Mr. Valenti’s efforts. Since it was started under United Nations auspices two years ago the fund has not met its goal to raise $10 billion from government and private sources. (Pledges through 2008 total about $5 billion.)

Diplomats from developing nations in attendance described the shortfall as a matter of life or death, especially for countries lacking adequate resources to cope with the pandemic

Bernardo Sande, ambassador of Malawi, reported that the $176 million his government has received from the Global Fund had substantially reduced the cost of drugs for anti-viral treatment programs, but that much more assistance was needed. “Fifteen percent of our population is infected,” he said. “Caring for them, and for the many children orphaned by the disease, has caused a serious burden on our resources.”

Mr. Valenti stressed that his new position was “not a fund-raising job” — at least not in terms of strong-arming his many high-profile friends — although it is highly likely his lobbying skills will prove useful in convincing the United States to raise its contribution. “It’s more important to get the real money from Congress,” noted software entrepreneur/philanthropist Ed Scott Jr., who founded the Friends group with a $1 million start-up check last year.

Philanthropy consultant Adam Waldman, who “pitched” Mr. Valenti for the job on Martha’s Vineyard last summer, had no doubt his friend would prove effective where it counts.

“He’s the quintessential Hollywood and Washington insider,” Mr. Waldman said. “There is no one better to get the message out.”

Kevin Chaffee

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