US blasted for misplacing priorities

The US has come under fire at a major AIDS conference for lavishing unlimited funds on Iraq and the war against global "terror" while millions of Africans battle alone against HIV.

    A delegate ponders the programme, which seeks to expand access to AIDS care

    In a sharp attack that mentioned no names but left no-one in doubt as to the target, Secretary General Kofi Annan's envoy Stephen Lewis told the Kenya conference to weigh the $200 billion allocated to fight "terrorist" groups against the $1 billion Africa spent last year to combat AIDS.

    Given the plight of Africa's 11 million AIDS orphans and the more than 29 million Africans with no access to anti-HIV drugs, this amounted to a "double standard ... the grotesque obscenity of the modern world," he said.

    Lewis, who is Annan's special envoy for AIDS in Africa, made the remarks at the opening of ICASA, the continent's biggest forum on the disease and the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

    "I'm enraged by the behaviour of the rich powers ... (by) how much more grievous - by their neglect - they have made the situation in Africa," he declared.

    The envoy did not mention the United States or give details for the $200 billion figure, but his attack was strongly applauded.

    Unequal efforts

    "HIV/AIDS is killing many millions in Africa," ICASA chairman Dundu Owili told French news agency AFP.

    "I wonder what it (US spending on AIDS) would have been like if the same epidemic had taken place in America?"

    Natalie Eijkman, 
    Dutch aid worker

    Gobal terrorism "has to be fought, but equal efforts have to be put into the fight against AIDS as well," Owili said.

    Other delegates noted that the amount that the billion dollars the United States spends for just one week for its operations in Iraq is about the total spent on AIDS in Africa, all sources combined, for a whole year.

    Kondwani Chirambo, who works for IDASA, a South African NGO that promotes democracy, said African countries faced political instability if their economies and social structure were wrecked by the AIDS crisis.

    The huge difference in spending "doesn't make sense," he said.

    "The Western world has been the key driver of democracy in Africa. Yet some of these countries will not be able to survive if (the) AIDS (pandemic) is factored in."

    Powerful statement

    Natalie Eijkman, a Dutch aid worker who runs a home-based care facility in Kisumu, Kenya's third largest city, said Lewis had made "an extremely powerful statement."

    "I wonder what it (US spending on AIDS) would have been like if the same epidemic had taken place in America?" she asked.

    The United States, in its defence of its AIDS policies, points out that it is the biggest single contributor to HIV research and to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

    "If terror is a big problem to them (the United States), then they cannot have Africa's problems as a priority"

    Kasule Lumimba,
    Ugandan MP

    In addition, President George Bush has vowed to commit $15 billion over five years to help AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa and Caribbean, an initiative that has been widely praised.

    "Our government has committed the bulk of the money that goes to the Global Fund. To make that comparison (with spending on fighting global "terrorism") is to compare two different things," said Ados Velez-May, programme manager with a US organisation, the National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors (NASTAD).

    Sidelines support

    Ugandan MP Kasule Lumimba also pleaded for understanding for the American position.

    "If terror is a big problem to them (the United States), then they cannot have Africa's problems as a priority. It is more urgent to them."

    Dan Onujekwe, a Ghanaian doctor, said one of the biggest problems for Africa was not external help but mismanagement at home.

    "We should not remain a receiver continent. I would also blame African governments for not utilising resources well," he said. 



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