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AIDS activists ‘pine’ for George W. Bush, ‘rage’ at Obama

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One of Bush’s signature initiatives was combating AIDS. Despite being a favorite cause of the liberal in-crowd, Bush never seemed to get much credit for it. But I guess you don’t know what you’re missing until it’s gone:

“If I were to characterize the mood here, I would say it was a combination of rage and panic,” said Joanne Carter, director of the anti-poverty group Results and a board member of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

The rage is directed at the Obama administration, which many activists say is reneging on a commitment to continue big annual increases in global AIDS spending. The panic arises from the knowledge that in some African countries, patients who want antiretroviral treatment are being turned away and will soon start dying.

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Some activists pine for former president George W. Bush, who launched a much-praised multibillion-dollar fund to fight AIDS around the world. But now, in the eyes of many, the U.S. government has replaced the pharmaceutical industry as the main impediment to progress.

“The paradox is that the United States government and other funding partners have decided to either flat-line or reduce their spending just when funding should be ramped up so we could actually win the battle,” said Paul Zeitz, director of the Global AIDS Alliance.

If you flashback to early last year, almost immediately after taking office Obama  and Hillary Clinton were accused of disrupting the president’s AIDS initiative out of “malice”, according to Michael Gerson:

During Obama’s transition, Dr. Mark Dybul was initially asked to stay on as the coordinator of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) for several months until a replacement could be found and confirmed. Because Dybul was the main architect of the program and one of its guiding visionaries, few were surprised by the offer. With Ambassador Randall Tobias, Dybul organized the most staggeringly successful foreign assistance effort since the Marshall Plan — eventually helping support lifesaving AIDS therapy for more than 2 million people.

While I worked at the White House — from 2001 to 2006 — I saw Dybul combine the ability to build bipartisan consensus for PEPFAR on Capitol Hill with exceptional compassion for the victims of a cruel and wasting sickness. It mattered little to the Bush administration that Dybul was openly gay or that he had contributed to Democratic candidates in the past. He was recognized as a great humanitarian physician — a man of faith and conscience — almost universally respected among legislators, AIDS activists, foreign leaders and health experts. Almost.

A few radical “reproductive rights” groups — the fringe of a fringe — accused Dybul of advocating “abstinence only” programs in AIDS prevention. It was always a lie. Dybul consistently supported comprehensive prevention efforts that include abstinence, faithfulness and condom use — the approach that African governments themselves developed. In fact, Dybul was sometimes attacked from the right for defending a broad definition of AIDS prevention, including programs to address prostitution and transgenerational sex. Over the years, PEPFAR distributed 2.2 billion condoms — hardly an “abstinence only” approach.

By encouraging Dybul to stay until his successor was in place, the Obama administration displayed a generous spirit, as well as a practical concern for continuity in a vital program.

Then, the day after the inauguration, Dybul received a call asking him to submit his resignation and to leave by the end of the day. There was no chance to reassure demoralized staffers, or PEPFAR teams abroad, or the confused health ministers of other nations. The only people who seemed pleased were a few blogging extremists, one declaring, “Dybul Out: Thank you, Hillary!!!”



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