Sunday, July 11, 2004

Address global AIDS crisis now


As participants at the 15th annual International AIDS Conference begin a weeklong series of meetings today in Bangkok, they face a daunting challenge: how to fight the global epidemic that HIV/AIDS has become.

America has a critical role to play in fighting the spread of AIDS, through foreign aid, which can be used to buy medicine and provide health education. America must also continue work to find a cure.

A United Nations report issued last week is shocking. It said 38 million people are estimated to be infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, worldwide. Of that number, 4.8 million cases are new. And in the past two years, more than 9 million people have been infected. More than 20 years since the first cases were reported, the numbers underscore the devastating scope of the problem, particularly as global trade has made the world much smaller.

Most cases still are in sub-

Saharan Africa (25 million), but HIV is spreading quickly through Eastern Europe and Asia, and on a fraction of those infected have access to drugs that can keep them alive.

President Bush has made global AIDS support a cornerstone of compassionate conservatism. In last year's State of the Union address, he called for a $15 billion, five-year AIDS relief plan. Only $2.4 billion has been allocated in this year's budget.

Last month, Bush called for $500 million more to prevent and treat the disease in Vietnam - where the disease is expected to increase eight-fold by 2010 - and in 14 other countries in Africa and the Caribbean. Congress is still trying to figure out whether to allocate funds to fulfill Bush's latest request. It should.

Part of the reason new AIDS cases are exploding is because of the stigma associated with it, especially in developing counties. But there have been successes worth duplicating.

Brazil heeded a 1990 World Bank warning that 1.2 million people would be infected with HIV by 2000. It manufactured cheap generic versions of the so-called anti-AIDS "cocktail" drugs, and was able to provide the medicine needed for everyone - free of charge. As a result, the estimated total of people infected with AIDS today is half of the 1990 World Bank projection. Brazil can be used as a model on a global scale.

Doctors Without Borders and the University of Montpelier's Research Institute for Development in France said distribution of generic drugs can significantly reduce AIDS cases. But Bush has said that he will not yet spend any of the $15 billion on generic drugs, because there is not enough proof of their effectiveness. He should reconsider.

The United Nations estimates that it will cost $12 billion a year by 2005 to address HIV/AIDS worldwide. That has increased from $10 billion a year because of the cost of delaying action. With so many lives at stake, we can't afford to wait any longer to fully address this crisis now.

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