Monday, May 31, 2004


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By William Fisher

Remember the billions for HIV-AIDS President Bush pledged in his 2003 State of the Union address? Those funds were to put two million people in Africa and the Caribbean on life-saving antiretroviral drugs. Has this promise gone the way of ‘No Child Left Behind’? Or the new mission to the moon and Mars? Or the huge stockpiles of WMD in Iraq?

According to Dr. Paul Zeitz, president and executive director of the Global AIDS Alliance, the Bush administration’s recent announcement of new "fast-track" approval of combination drugs for HIV/AIDS “looks great for public relations.” But, Dr. Zeitz contends that “Bush is slowing down an internationally recognized, World Health Organization-run, multilateral approval process for generic AIDS medicines.”

Says Dr. Zeitz: “On closer inspection, we learn that President Bush continues to block or delay access to the high-quality generically manufactured drugs that can save lives today. Actually, African governments, the World Bank, UNICEF, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria and non-governmental organizations like Doctors Without Borders are all already using WHO-approved medicines to treat AIDS patients around the world.”

Zeitz adds: “The Bush administration has attempted to put a positive media ‘compassion’ spin on its global AIDS programs, while it simultaneously slows progress and relentlessly implements an arrogant, unilateralist and ideological policy that consistently undermines global efforts by nearly all other stakeholders.”

Should we be surprised? Hardly, because this would not be the first time the Bush Administration has chosen ideology over science. For example:

Sex Education. President Bush has consistently supported the view that sex education should teach “abstinence only” and not include information on other ways to avoid sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy. Until recently, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) initiative called “Programs That Work” identified sex education programs that have been found to be effective in scientific studies and provided this information through its web site. In 2002, all five “Programs That Work” provided comprehensive sex education to teenagers, and none were “abstinence-only.” CDC has now ended this initiative and erased information about these proven sex education programs from its web site. Information about condom use and efficacy was deleted from CDC web site. The CDC replaced a comprehensive fact sheet on condoms with one emphasizing condom failure rates and the effectiveness of abstinence.

Stem Cell Research. In banning federal funding for research on new stem cell lines, President Bush stated that “more than 60 genetically diverse" lines were available for potential research. Soon thereafter, HHS Secretary Thompson acknowledged that the correct number was only about 24 to 25. Still later, NIH Director Dr. Elias Zerhouni told Congress that only 11 stem cell lines were widely available to researchers. Recently, none other than Mrs. Nancy Reagan has gone public, urging the president to rethink his stem cell policy.

Global Warming. Reports by the Environmental Protection Agency on the risks of climate change were suppressed; The White House added so many hedges to the climate change section of the EPA's report card on the environment that former administrator Christie Whitman deleted the section rather than publish one that was so scientifically inaccurate.

Missile Defense. A top Defense Department official told a Senate panel that by the end of 2004, the system would be 90% effective in intercepting missiles from the Korean peninsula. In April 2003, the General Accounting Office found the President’s plan unworkable and even dangerous. The claim of 90% effectiveness “is not supported by any publicly available evidence, and it appears not to comport with the Pentagon’s own classified estimates.”

Wetlands Policy. Comments from scientists at the Fish and Wildlife Service on the destructive impacts of proposed regulatory changes were withheld. Scientists at the US Fish and Wildlife Service, part of the Interior Department, had prepared such an analysis showing that the new Corps proposal would “encourage the destruction of stream channels and lead to increased loss of aquatic functions.” The Interior Secretary, however, failed to submit the scientists’ comments to the Corps. The Corps subsequently issued rules that weakened key wetland protections.

Abortion and Breast Cancer. Social conservatives campaigned to require women to be “counseled” about an alleged risk of breast cancer from abortions, the National Cancer Institute revised its web site to suggest that studies of equal weight conflicted on the question. In fact, there is scientific consensus that no such link exists.

Wouldn’t it be refreshing if the president trusted the people enough to level with them?

About the writer: William Fisher has managed economic development programs in the Middle East and in many other areas for the US State Department and the US Agency for International Development. He served in the international affairs area in the Kennedy Administration