AIDS Victims in Africa

The welcome surprise in President Bush’s State of the Union address was his proposal for an Emergency Plan for Aids Relief. The president described the initiative as “a work of mercy beyond all current international efforts to help the people of Africa.” He asked the Congress to commit $15 billion over the next five years, including $10 million in new funding, which would triple U.S. spending on international H.I.V.-AIDS programs. “This nation can lead the world,” the president said, “in sparing the innocent people from a plague of nature.”


Resources would flow to the worst afflicted countries in Africa: Botswana, Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. Aid would also go to the most heavily affected nations in the Caribbean Basin, Haiti and Guyana. The initiative is designed to prevent seven million new infections, to supply anti-retroviral drugs for two million H.I.V. patients and to give care to 10 million H.I.V. victims and AIDS orphans. To implement its prevention and treatment strategies, the initiative will use a combination of treatment centers, regional clinics and mobile units, modeled on a successful Ugandan program.

One billion of the $10 billion in new money will be allocated for the much-praised Global Fund for HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Tommy Thompson, Mr. Bush’s secretary of health and human services, has only recently been named to head that fund. The major question experts are posing for the White House is this: Why is the United States planning to use the remaining $9 billion in new funds to mount its own program instead of working through the global fund?

Because the size of the U.S. contribution sets the standard for what other donor nations give, the low level of U.S. involvement in the global fund, compared with the projected bilateral commitments, may also affect the fund’s future prospects. In addition, the White House will have to answer questions about duplication of effort and the multiplication of administrative structures. It must also meet objections that it appears once again to be following a “go-it-alone” approach to a grave global problem.

Another unanswered question concerns the administration’s stand on abortion. Until now it has supported a ban on U.S. funding for organizations that provide abortions. Known as the Mexico City language because of its adoption by the Reagan administration at the time of the 1984 U.N. Population Summit in Mexico City, the exclusion was also maintained by the first Bush administration. After a lapse during the Clinton years, it was taken up again by the present White House.

News leaks suggest that the White House is preparing legislation on the AIDS initiative that will drop the prohibition against funding abortion providers. The administration ought to be strongly urged to retain the Mexico City provisions. The AIDS relief plan will be sullied by passively permitting abortion funding, and it could well be blocked because of such funding. The plan aims to save lives. There can be no justification for allowing the unborn to be made victims in that cause.

Archbishop Javier Lozano Barragan, president of the Pontifical Council for Health Care, has described international assistance to the victims of AIDS as a contribution to the “social mortgage” that, according to Catholic social teaching, is attached to property and wealth. The administration is to be commended for its increased commitment to international development through the Millennial Challenge Account, its part in reducing the costs of generic anti-retroviral drugs, and now the H.I.V.-AIDS initiative. These actions show that compassionate conservatism can have an international face.

Humanitarian challenges like H.I.V.-AIDS provide opportunities for new forms of solidarity. Catholic teaching on world affairs is unswervingly internationalist. It is firmly committed to dialogue and cooperation among nations. It defends the United Nations system and favors the development of global institutions to meet new world problems in the interest of “the universal common good.”

The Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief promises to do great good for the poorest and most vulnerable people on earth. It could do more good still if it would work through institutions like the Global Fund for HIV/AIDS, Tuber-culosis and Malaria. At a time when anti-Americanism is on the rise throughout the world, full American participation in a global response to AIDS would signal that there are limits to American exceptionalism. It would show that in meeting some challenges, at least, the United States is willing to march in unison with other nations.

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