February 21, 2013

HUMANITARIAN-IN-CHIEF:

What George W. Bush did right (Christian Caryl, February 21, 2013, Chicago Tribune)

In his 2003 speech, Bush called upon Congress to sponsor an ambitious program to supply antiretroviral drugs and other treatments to HIV sufferers in Africa. Since then, the U.S. government has spent some $44 billion on the project (a figure that includes $7 billion contributed to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, a multilateral organization). By way of comparison, America's most recent aircraft carrier -- which will join the 10 we have in service -- is set to cost $26.8 billion. One medical expert calls PEPFAR the "largest financial commitment of any country to global health and to treatment of any specific disease worldwide."

It's impossible to tell exactly how many lives the program has saved, though Secretary of State John Kerry recently claimed that 5 million people are alive today because of it. That's probably as good an estimate as any.

Just to give you an idea of the scale, here are some headline figures from a recent op-ed by U.S. Global AIDS coordinator Eric Goosby:

"In 2012 alone, PEPFAR directly supported nearly 5.1 million people on antiretroviral treatment -- a threefold increase in only four years; provided antiretroviral drugs to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV to nearly 750,000 pregnant women living with the disease (which allowed approximately 230,000 infants to be born without HIV); and enabled more than 46.5 million people to receive testing and counseling."

So it's safe to say this one program has been a titanic force for good over the past decade. The number of deaths from AIDS has been steadily declining over the past few years, and PEPFAR has certainly been a big help. But ask an American -- or a Western European -- if they've ever heard of the program, and they're almost certain to draw a blank. That's partly because the United States has done very little to publicize the success of PEPFAR, and partly because the Bush presidency was overshadowed by much more high-profile aspects of his foreign policy (such as the invasion of Iraq).

Indeed, Bush still enjoys high popularity ratings in Africa, where he's widely regarded as one of the continent's great benefactors. (Meanwhile, the Obama administration's proposed PEPFAR cuts have triggered protests around Africa -- even in Kenya, where the president's family ties have ensured him plenty of favorable coverage.)

"Bush did more to stop AIDS and more to help Africa than any president before or since," says New York Times correspondent Peter Baker, who's writing a history of the Bush-Cheney White House that's due to appear in October. "He took on one of the world's biggest problems in a big, bold way and it changed the course of a continent. If it weren't for Iraq, it would be one of the main things history would remember about Bush, and it still should be part of any accounting of his presidency."

Nor is liberating 30 million Iraqis and setting off the Arab Spring anything to sneeze at.
Posted by at February 21, 2013 5:34 AM
  
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