Friday, July 16, 2010

Is Obama Backing away from the fight against Global AIDS?

This is an interview with Dr. Paul Zeitz- the executive director of the Global AIDS Alliance, a position he's held since 2001. Over the past decade, he's led GAA to promote universal access to prevention, treatment and care, among other issues. As backlash against the Obama administration’s policies on global HIV/AIDS continues to mount, Dr. Zeitz shares his perspective with

Click Here for the Interview

Here is an exerpt:

Q: One of President Bush’s signature acts was the creation of the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) — the largest single effort any nation’s yet made to scale up HIV/AIDS prevention, care and treatment. PEPFAR was a major victory for activists around the globe. How has the program been impacted since Obama took office?

Back in 2008, President Bush decided that before he left office, he wanted to authorize another 5-year PEPFAR cycle. Senators Obama, Biden and Clinton all cosponsored the bill to reauthorize the bill, known as the Lantos-Hyde bill, committing the U.S. government to providing $48 billion over five years [2009-2013]. It was a truly historic act by then-president Bush to really take the initiative to the next level.

During the 2008 campaign, Obama signed a pledge committing to $50 billion for global AIDS spending for the period of 2009-2013. He also spoke at the Saddleback Church HIV/AIDS conference and verbally committed to increasing global AIDS spending by at least 1 billion per year, if he was elected.

Then he got elected, then the transition team started governing, and within 18 months, everything’s changed.

Q: Since Obama took office, what about his administration's approach have you found particularly disheartening?

We’d had breakthrough with Bush. Global leaders and stakeholders had committed themselves to universally scale up aids prevention and access to treatment. The whole global international community was in solidarity with the goal of universal access to prevention and treatment.

President Obama and his administration have taken a radically different position. It’s crystal clear that they don’t believe that HIV/AIDS treatment should be made available to everyone, because they think it’s too expensive. I’ve sat and others have sat in high-level meetings in which administration officials talking about how the U.S. government could not sustain the demands of a “treatment mortgage,” saying, “How can we afford this?”

The president has virtually flat-lined [PEPFAR] in his first two budget request. Even more shockingly, Obama has requested cuts to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, & Malaria’s FY2011 budget — this despite how effective the Global Fund’s work has been as a multilateral financing instrument. It’s achieved remarkable results, saving an estimated 4.9 million lives. The Obama administration says they’re committed to multilateralism. So why do they want to cut U.S. government support of the program?