Viewpoint: U.S. should address inequality in the treatment of AIDS

BY
BY ANAND REDDI

Published December 2, 2003

If several Boeing 747 jumbo jets, filled mostly with children,
were crashing into Mount Kilimanjaro every day, something might be
done about it. Secretary of State Colin Powell declared,
“AIDS is the most powerful weapon of mass destruction on the
planet.” Although our government pledges to commit $87
billion this year to destruction and rehabilitation of Iraq, our
affluent country promises only $15 billion over five years to
curtail the HIV/AIDS pandemic. This tepid response by our
government and its leaders is preposterous.  Unlike other
infectious diseases, HIV is shocking in its pervasiveness. The
impact of the epidemic is seen throughout a multitude of societies
with negative effects detectable at virtually all levels of
economy, education and health sectors, as well as at the household
level. The horrific human suffering inflicted upon the world also
jeopardizes global economic growth and will yield political and
social instability. I can guarantee our complacency with AIDS
will have far more severe consequences than Osama bin Laden and
al-Qaida’s activities. Let us not use the threat of
global terrorism to mask our neglect of a world community
struggling against the equally debilitating threat of HIV/AIDS.

Yesterday, Democratic presidential candidate Wesley Clark
unveiled a $30 billion package (doubling the Bush
administration’s commitment) to tackle HIV/AIDS worldwide.
Bush’s plan directs most financing through agencies
controlled in part by the United States, which impedes programs
that actually work in the developing world. However, Clark’s
proposal provides the majority of money to international
organizations (which have a proven track record in the developing
world) like the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and
Malaria. This is an extraordinary proposal by the general. The plan
has its ideological roots equally in both the Jewish tradition of
Tikkun Olam which means, “repair the world” and the
era-transforming Marshall Plan. His strategy centers on his belief
that America is not just the world’s “greatest military
force, but also its greatest force for good.”

Not only must our national government assume a more commanding
role in the eradication of HIV/AIDS but we, the University
community, must also take a stand.  I recall reading this
fantastic e-mail in which our dear friend, University President
Mary Sue Coleman, wrote “Everything we do at this great
university has an impact on the world, just as the events of the
world have a direct impact on us.” The rapid progression of
the HIV epidemic requires a well-coordinated global consortium of
researchers and academic institutions to marshal basic science and
public health efforts toward developing strategies against
HIV. I propose that the University encourage more
collaborative partnerships between its various departments and
schools and African universities to encourage biomedical, public
health and social discourse on the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Paul Farmer, a major voice in the HIV/AIDS field, reminds us of
our shared, intimate connections with the world community,
regardless of our deep divides in language, culture and
class. Be assured that the millions of deaths that result from
the propagation of AIDS in the developing world will not leave the
United States unscathed. A vital message is learned from the
prominent Victorian physician William Budd describing typhoid fever
in 1874: “The disease seldom attacks the rich, but it thrives
most among the poor. But by reason of our common humanity we
are all, whether rich or poor more nearly related here than we are
apt to think. The members of the great human family are, in
fact, bound together by a thousand secret ties, of whose existence
the world in general little dreams. And he that was never yet
connected with his poor neighbour, but deeds of charity or love,
may one day find, when it is too late, that he is connected with
him by a bond which may bring them both at once, to a common
grave.”

Reddi is an LSA senior.