CAPE TOWN – Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) chairperson Zackie Achmat has accused President George Bush of creating opportunities for religious fundamentalists in African countries to close family planning clinics and hamper access to HIV prevention methods such as condoms.
Achmat was speaking on the eve of the Global Day of Action that involved protests at Bush campaign offices across the United States. Protests where also staged in South Africa.
‘It was with a great deal of pain, sorrow and a great deal of anger that we called for this action,’ Achmat said during an international teleconference.
‘We have a crisis of morbidity, a crisis of mortality and a crisis of truth. Amid all of this we have Bush’s AIDS tsar, Randall Tobias, saying that condoms have not worked. This while in South Africa we have 1 500 new infections every day and across the continent there are only three condoms per sexually active person per year,’ said Achmat.
He added that Bush’s abstinence-only campaign had resulted in policymakers in the developing world panicking and turning their backs on proven methods, while religious fundamentalists in Kenya and Ghana were closing family planning clinics.
‘We now have a crisis of prevention,’ Achmat added.
Both Achmat and Asia Russell of HealthGAP, an activist organisation in the US, accused the Bush administration of being instrumental in the underfunding of the Global Fund to Fight HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.
‘The Bush administration’s moves to cut funding to the Global Fund by 64% could draw a halt to any new business the funds needs to conduct,’ said Russell.
Achmat said that at the time of the announcement TAC had raised concerns around the President’s Emergency Plan for HIV/AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).
‘We questioned why this money was not being disbursed via the Global Fund. We asked why so much money was being invested in war. All Bush has achieved is to contribute to a greater degree of human insecurity, creating a campaign of terror,’ said Achmat.
Russell noted that the Bush administration had announced with great fanfare at the 2002 AIDS conference in Barcelona that 50 people had been put on anti-retroviral treatment using the PEPFAR money.
‘On the eve of the next conference in Bangkok, only 2000 people are on treatment. This is a disgraceful record,’ he said.
Less than U$350-million of PEPFAR’s U$2,4-billion appropriated for 2004 has been set aside.
Activists claimed that the U$15-billion promised by Bush over a five year period (as part of PEPFAR) represented only half of the US fair share of U$30-billion needed to meet global need.
The US Senate this week approved a U$447-billion defence spending bill that covers only part of the Pentagon’s upcoming war costs.
This includes U$25-billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Bush administration is expected to seek a further U$25-billion for the two ongoing military campaigns.
Russell said that there had been delays in the rollout of treatment primarily due to the administration’s insistence that brand name drugs be used. Under huge pressure, the US government did relent and agreed that generics can be used under certain circumstances and only after undergoing quality tests by the FDA, rejecting World Health Organisation pre-qualification.
Rob Weissmann of Essential Action, a US organisation promoting activism in communities, added that the US Government was also attempting to revisit World Trade Organisation restrictions in those 15 countries that were set to receive PEPFAR money, including South Africa.
This included limiting the grounds on which compulsory licensing could be used.
On the domestic front, activists accused Bush of decreasing the prevention budget for HIV/AIDS, but doubling funds for the abstinence campaign, exporting it to countries such as Kenya and Ghana, which already received bilateral funding.