Thu, Jul 15, 2004 - Page 1 News List

US defends AIDS efforts


The US yesterday urged its legions of detractors to end their bickering over condoms and drug patents and join hands with Washington in a global partnership to fight their common enemy: AIDS.

"At this point, perhaps the most critical mistake we can make is to allow this pandemic to divide us," Randall Tobias, the US AIDS coordinator, said in a speech to the International AIDS Conference.

"We are striving toward the same goal: a world free of HIV/AIDS. When 8,000 lives are lost to AIDS every day, division is a luxury we cannot afford," he said.

The US has come under intense criticism this week at the six-day conference over its AIDS policies, with activists, scientists and governments finding fault with nearly every Washington policy on HIV.

Its insistence on abstinence as a first line of defense against HIV has been ridiculed as unworkable by proponents of condoms. Tobias said while the US is not against condoms, an abstinence campaign in Uganda shows that the contraceptives are not the only solution.

"Abstinence works, being faithful works, condoms work. Each has its place," he said.

Tobias noted that the US is spending nearly twice as much to fight global AIDS as the rest of the world's donor governments combined.

US President George W. Bush has pledged US$15 billion over five years to combat AIDS in Vietnam and 14 countries in Africa and the Caribbean.

"By its actions, the US has challenged the rest of the world to take action. Please join with us in our deepened commitment to the global fight against HIV/AIDS," Tobias said.

Critics say the money comes with strings attached -- it goes to countries that support its abstinence-first policy. Also, the money currently can only buy brandname drugs, usually American, shutting out cheaper generic medicines made by developing countries.

A UN-launched Global Fund allows generic drugs, costing as little as US$150 per person per year, while those approved under the US plan typically cost US$700, said Joia Mukherjee, medical director of Partners in Health, which helps treat poor people in Haiti.

"The last thing I want to worry about is which bottle this stuff is coming out of," she told reporters.

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