Monday, August 21, 2006

Africa And AIDS

Here's some good news about Africa and AIDS. John Donnelly is writing at the Boston Globe that the program that President Bush started three years ago to help fight AIDS in Africa is bearing fruit. He quotes Dr. John Idoko, a doctor in Nigeria who treats thousands of HIV-positive patients, as giving credit to the President's program for having an effect on HIV prevention and treatment in Africa with which nothing else compares. His own practice has changed dramatically. Three years ago, according to Donnelly, Idoko frequently "made rounds in a hospital packed with people dying from AIDS because they couldn't pay for the antiretroviral drugs necessary to keep them alive." Now there are drugs available to treat the over 6,000 HIV positive patients in his rapidly expanding clinic:

The major reason for Idoko's success is the Bush administration's AIDS program, which in the last three years has sent billions of dollars to Africa and helped save the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. When I moved to Africa three years ago, the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR, was just getting off the ground. As I return to Washington this month, the $15 billion program is just hitting its stride, and many Africans believe it has become the single most effective initiative in fighting the deadly scourge.
I remember watching the State of the Union address at which President Bush announced the initiative and thinking what a good thing it was, but wondering whether it could possibly have any effect. Then I watched the reactions over time from various aid groups and political organizations, some of which said it was a diversion of money that our country needed for itself and far too free a use of American largess, not to mention fruitless considering the enormity of the task, and others which said it wasn't nearly enough and the President was being stingy, again because of the enormity of the task--the latter despite the fact that (as far as I know) it was the most generous gift to date toward fighting AIDS in Africa. It's encouraging to know that there are people on the ground in AIDS ravaged Africa who are definitely seeing concrete advances in battling the disease as a result of those American dollars. The Nigerian doctor is certainly appreciative. "`The greatest impact in HIV prevention and treatment in Africa is PEPFAR-there's nothing that compares,' Idoko said."

Donnelly's article then takes an interesting turn. He takes a look at the ongoing discussion of AIDS in Africa coming from the rest of the world. It seems there is controversy in international Aids policy circles centered around an objection to the amount of money in the Bush program that goes toward promoting abstinence and fidelity as part of AIDS prevention. It's not really that they object to a certain amount of abstinence education, but some aid groups think too many of the program's dollars are being spent on reaching people with the abstinence/fidelity message. (Okay, brief opinion moment here. What more effective way is there of counteracting the scourge of the HIV virus than not getting it in the first place? Using funds to reach kids while they are still young enough to learn the lesson before the school of hard knocks has a chance to teach it to them is not only prudent, but extremely cost effective in the long run.)

Another controversy that Donnelly mentions is the objection of many AIDS activists to U.S. cooperation with faith-based groups in implementing its AIDS treatment and prevention efforts. My question to them is how many hospitals and hospices are there around the world, including America, that weren't at least started by some religious group or other? Do they think that impoverished African governments are tossing loads of money at building hospitals and clinics? I suppose we could send the US contribution through the UN, or some other world body, but we've seen how well that's gone in the past. Anyone remember Oil For Food? Fortunately, Donnelly says that pragmatism prevents this cooperation with faith-based organizations from being the issue in Africa that it is to the rest of the world. Faith-based services are frequently the only ones available, and the situation is desperate enough that people need whatever help they can get. Donnelly quotes one Zambian man as saying that he's already lost 15 friends to AIDS, and that he's now an old man by his country's standards. He's 34.

Regardless of the objections of people who don't want religious groups and abstinence education to have such prominent places in US AIDS fighting efforts, by Donnelly's reckoning, the program's working. I for one am truly pleased by the progress, and can honestly say I think it's a worthy use of my tax dollars (and that's not an easy thing to get me to say.) I suspect, however, I'm not nearly as pleased as Dr. Idoko and others like him. They're seeing first hand their work, and American dollars, saving lives. Hopefully for the next generation in Africa, 34 won't be considered old age.

Hat tip: Instapundit

Update: Not all of Africa is seeing an improvement in the AIDS situation. South Africa has been living in denial on the issue of AIDS, and her people are bearing the consequences.