Destitute Countries or Big Drug Companies
Who Benefits from Bush’s Billion $ AIDS Plan?
By Christine Maggiore
I am no fan of George Bush, but his recent commitment of $15 billion to the fight against AIDS in the developing world impressed me. I agree with the sentiments expressed in his speech, that we should give our life-saving medicines to impoverished nations.
Is AIDS the one issue where Bush is right on? Do you think these billions will help? Is Africa really facing depopulation and economic collapse due to AIDS?
Your insights are always thought provoking.
I believe Bush’s position on AIDS is motivated more by his commitment to big business interests than any humanitarianism. Following his plan, our tax dollars will increase pharmaceutical industry profits while actually decreasing our chances of solving the AIDS dilemma in Africa and other impoverished areas of the world.
Because most of us view AIDS through the distorted lens of mainstream media portrayals, Bush appears uncharacteristically in step on the issue. The majority of Americans accept without question popular notions that without U.S. intervention, AIDS will decimate the populations and economies of the developing world. These misguided impressions of AIDS are embraced by a wide spectrum of political groups from the right to liberal progressives. Unfortunately, unity on this issue is based on unfounded beliefs that inspire disproportionate public spending for solutions that are dangerously simplistic: funding toxic drug treatments that have yet to show actual health benefits to patients in this country.
More people need to realize that the terrifying numbers of global AIDS cases we read about are estimates with few links to reality. For example, the 4 to 5 million people said to be suffering with AIDS in South Africa exist primarily as mathematical projections. Actual AIDS case counts in South Africa, according to the most recent World Health Organization report, total under 15,000 for the entire period of time known as the AIDS epidemic.
This unspectacular number tends to anger AIDS activists who insist the figures must be higher. They claim AIDS goes undiagnosed among many people in Africa due to the stigma it brings and to poor reporting practices, and so the problem is under-counted. To a certain degree, their assertions are correct. Sadly, an AIDS diagnosis still provokes shame and social isolation in many parts of the world — including America — and most of Africa uses reporting criteria for AIDS that vary greatly from our own.
But these passionate and well-intended arguments favoring higher AIDS numbers fall short in face of certain facts: Deaths in South Africa from all causes including AIDS are less than 1% annually; actuarial reports show average life expectancy there has increased by seven years since 1970; the country’s population grows at a healthy 3% each year; and AIDS diagnoses are given freely to anyone with common symptoms such as cough, fever and diarrhea with no HIV test required. Poverty, malnutrition, endemic diseases such as TB and malaria, lack of basic medical care and clean water account for much more suffering in Africa than so-called AIDS.
I noticed on this past World AIDS Day that India has suddenly become an area of concern. One news item I read said that by the year 2010, India will have the highest numbers of AIDS cases in the world. As a spiritual person with profound connections to India, I wonder what’s really going on.
Concerned in Laguna
Media attention abruptly shifted from Africa to India last December when billionaire Bill Gates and actor Richard Gere became the odd couple of AIDS awareness in that country.
Gates’ $100 million donation to India’s AIDS budget earned him accolades while detracting attention from several disturbing facts: Prior to his visit to India and enormous charitable contribution, Gates funded the creation of a CIA document on India and AIDS. This report touts astronomical AIDS estimates for India — 20 to 25 million by 2010 — derived from “consensus estimates by experts,” and was used by the Bush administration to officially declare India a threat to U.S. national security.
Although the Gates/CIA report acknowledges its numbers are “rough estimates with a relatively high margin of error,” it un-hesitatingly concludes AIDS will cause India “political instability and law and order problems [leading to a] rise of terrorism” which may require U.S. military intervention.
Interestingly, the CIA’s “rough estimate” numbers contradict actual AIDS totals published by Indian health officials who use internationally accepted epidemiological procedures for AIDS reporting. To cite one example, the CIA claims 310,000 Indians died of AIDS in 1999, while India notes just 114 AIDS-related deaths that year. The CIA also fails to explain how 11,000 total AIDS cases for India will rise to 25,000,000 within the next seven years.
Richard Gere, who shares your love for India, also takes a passionate stance on AIDS. This prompted him to charge into a highly-publicized AIDS awareness tour of India following release of the CIA report. Rather than investigating the CIA’s extravagant AIDS estimates, or examining the motives behind Gates AIDS benevolence, Gere assumed the 25 million figure was real and bristled at tough questions raised by Indian journalists.
From the Times of India:
“On Wednesday, it was Richard Gere’s turn to be grilled at a press conference for citing CIA figures that have been challenged by Union Health Minister Shatrughan Sinha as grossly exaggerated and causing an AIDS panic in this country.
“Told about Sinha’s strong views on the subject, Gere responded defensively: ‘Figures are not the issue, the point is that there’s a lot of people. There is very little difference between four million and eight million, ten or 25. It’s irrelevant,’ he said.
“Gere also said he expected the press to be part of the ‘coalition of people’ who should be fighting the HIV/AIDS epidemic. ‘If you are not here to help, then you are really part of the problem,’ he told a persistent reporter from the Indian Express.”
Apparently Gere sees no problem with the CIA report or Gates’ $200 million investment in AIDS drug companies that have targeted India as the perfect testing ground for their experimental AIDS vaccines.
For more answers to your questions, visit the Alive & Well website at www.aliveandwell.org
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