Wealthy nations: Follow U.S. lead on AIDS relief

by Oliver Williams

Say what you will about President Bush, even his most liberal critics should acknowledge that his recent leadership in the $15 billion global AIDS plan will put him in the history books as an uncommon moral leader. That’s especially true since his determination to bring real AIDS treatment to people overseas who so desperately need it is not likely to win him significant domestic political points.p. While in recent years we have been treated to much rhetoric about the fragility of the governments and economies of developing countries wrecked by AIDS, there has been relatively little follow-through. Bush broke the logjam and championed a bill that will provide significant help for prevention and treatment of AIDS in 12 nations in Africa and two in the Caribbean.p. Now what is needed is for the world’s other wealthy nations to do their part.p. United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan announced in 2000 a new initiative called The Global Fund to Fight HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. He set a goal to collect $10 billion a year from developed countries. The amount collected up to now has been less than one-third of that goal. The hope is that the new Bush initiative has pricked the consciences of the leaders of the Group of Eight countries, which, as the world’s wealthiest, have a moral responsibility to effectively address the HIV/AIDS pandemic.p. As a visiting professor of business ethics in South Africa for several months each year for the past 10 years, I have come to know firsthand the plight of the poor suffering from AIDS. A government agency estimates that 250,000 South Africans died of AIDS last year and that about 20 percent of adults in the country have either full-blow AIDS or HIV.p. According to U.N. studies, the best evidence indicates that as of 2002, more than 42 million people in the world — almost 30 million of them in sub-Saharan Africa — are living with HIV/AIDS. Without antiretroviral medicines, and the medical attention required with the medicines, AIDS sufferers will die. Care and treatment are well beyond the reach of most sufferers of the disease.p. For example, of the 30 million people with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa, the 2002 U.N. AIDS report indicates that only about 300,000 are receiving life-saving medicines.p. One middle-level executive working in Cape Town for a major multinational company told me how happy he was about the Bush initiative. He is originally from Zambia, where a sister suffering from AIDS now resides. A year ago, she was bed-ridden and had few signs of vitality. The business manager decided he would pay for antiretrovirals for his sister, and each month he has been sending the equivalent of $125 to Zambia to pay for the medicines.p. Although he has his own family and really could not afford the monthly gift, he felt he had to do it.p. His sister, with the medicines, is now living a normal life with few signs of any illness. He was just informed that the Zambian government, with the new U.S. money, anticipated that medicines could now be provided for $25 a month. My friend now will be able to focus more on the needs of his immediate family, and his sister, along with countless others, including many who have never received any medicines up till now, will have the security of knowing they will be available.p. AIDS brings into focus something most of us would rather not think about: that there are awful inequalities in the world and that these inequalities can be overcome. People do not have to die unnecessarily, and poverty has a remedy.p. In April 2002, I organized a conference focusing on AIDS and ethical issues that was funded by major pharmaceutical companies. Leaders from faith-based organizations and non-governmental organizations, largely from sub-Saharan Africa but also from all over the globe, gathered at the University of Notre Dame for two days and issued a series of recommendations. Championed by the keynote speaker of the meeting, Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town Njongonkulu Ndungane, two ideas emerged that still require further action by the G-8.p. The first is to cancel debt of impoverished countries and assure that debt-repayment funds are routed to help the poor. The second is that wealthier countries must do much more to provide resources — people and funds — to meet the health and poverty crisis.p. A simple but politically difficult policy change that could enhance the wealth of poor nations is to drop the heavy subsidies and protectionism for agricultural products in developed countries. Many of the poor countries could do well in a truly free market. Dropping protectionism in the wealthy countries would indeed take moral courage. George Bush has taken the lead on part of this moral imperative. Others must now follow.p. Rev. Williams is an associate professor of management and director of the Center for Ethics and Religious Values in Business at the University of Notre Dame.

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