National Commentary

Will Obama Weigh in To Save Africa?

bentonmugIt is hardly oversimplified to suggest the ugly underside of the rich’s unending exploitation of and contempt for the marginalized and poor is the virtually systematic way in which it provides for the unbridled spread of deadly viruses and disease. Only when an epidemic becomes a threat to the general population are appropriate public health measures mobilized.

bentonmugIt is hardly oversimplified to suggest the ugly underside of the rich’s unending exploitation of and contempt for the marginalized and poor is the virtually systematic way in which it provides for the unbridled spread of deadly viruses and disease. Only when an epidemic becomes a threat to the general population are appropriate public health measures mobilized.

The sad case of the failure to deter the spread of the deadly AIDS epidemic in the U.S. in the 1980s, as documented in the late Randy Shilts’ scathing, detailed written indictment, “And The Band Played On,” is exemplary.

The extreme overall imbalance in the measures to provide for the health of the rich compared to the rest of us is reflected in the resistance to significant health care reform that came from Wall Street in the last year. Its resistance prevented the legislation that was finally passed from including a sufficient magnitude of immediate, clear-cut benefits to the entire population such that it remains vulnerable now to continued skepticism and opposition.

But as bad as the health care system still is for many uninsured or under-insured Americans, conditions for the public on this continent are veritably ideal compared to those existing for the vast majority of people in sub-Saharan Africa.

“Out of sight, out of mind” attitudes elsewhere have made progress in health care terribly difficult in Africa, even when effective treatments are remarkably inexpensive, measured on a per capita basis.

Next week in New York, a United Nations Summit on the Millennium Development Goals will present the U.S. with a challenge to step up to fund at an effective level the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

Waning support from the U.S. for this effort in recent years led Archbishop Desmond Tutu to write in the New York Times in July that it is “deeply distressing.”

But according to an independent panel review, the Global Fund helped to save 5.7 million lives since 2003. It’s highly effective and on the leading edge of implementing the best practices of effective aid. Public health measures are developed by the countries who implement them, are evaluated independently and are awarded continued funding in accordance with performance.

Recently, over 100 U.S. congressman, including Rep. Jim Moran from Northern Virginia, issued a letter to President Obama urging him to commit the U.S. to a three-year, $6 billion commitment to the Global Fund, consistent with the bipartisan Lantos-Hyde U.S. Global Leadership Against HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria Reauthorization Act of 2008. They have urged the president to go to New York next week and pledge this level of support at the Millennium Development Goals summit.

According to the proponents of the Global Fund, a bold move such as this on the part of the U.S. will be decisive for mobilizing international support. It will be key for over 50 other nations who contribute to the Global Fund to continue and expand their support.

Historically, they say, every $1 coming from the U.S. is matched by $2 from the  other nations combined. It is been asserted that adequate funding could virtually eliminate pediatric AIDS (through known treatments for preventing the spread of the HIV virus from mother to child), the elimination of malaria in many countries, and universal access to tuberculosis treatment.

All one needs to consider is the comparable cost of prosecuting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, or of bailing out Wall Street. Compared to these, a $6 billion commitment over three years is a veritable drop in the bucket, especially when measured by the direct, tangible benefits to so many millions of people it will provide.

Resistance to such a level of support will come from predictable quarters, from those who dwell in the sewers beneath Wall Street and can’t calculate a net benefit to their financial bottom lines from something like this.

We have come a long way toward the destruction of our culture by allowing creatures such as these to dictate policy on the basis of the self-serving calculus of “what’s in it for me.” Nowadays, it is considered foolish romanticism to argue that something should be done merely because it is the right thing to do.

But, then again, making the Global Fund work is the right thing to do.

 


Nicholas Benton may be emailed at [email protected]