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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
OCTOBER 2, 2003
2:22 PM
CONTACT: Health GAP 
Asia Russell (267) 475-2645
Salih Booker (202) 546-7961
Dr. Paul Zeitz (202) 365-6786
Jodi Jacobson (301) 270-1182
 

WASHINGTON - October 2 - White House pick for global AIDS czar endorses disinformation campaign on global AIDS funding, abstinence policies.

During Senate confirmation hearings yesterday, Randall Tobias, ex-Eli Lilly CEO and Pres. Bush's appointee for head of the U.S. Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, included in his testimony incorrect and misleading statements about the capacity of poor countries to absorb U.S. funding for AIDS treatment and prevention, according to AIDS activists. His confirmation is expected in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today.

"Tobias told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that according to his experts, money is 'not the problem' in confronting the AIDS crisis," said Asia Russell of Health GAP. "This is patently untrue. Annual spending on AIDS in poor countries needs to reach $10.5 billion by 2005 just to utilize poor countries' existing infrastructure alone. U.S. underfunding of the fight against AIDS is a major problem."

Today, total global spending on AIDS is only $4.7 billion. "While the Administration continues to hide behind the excuse of inadequate infrastructure," asserts Rusell, "it is undermining the Global Fund, the multilateral program with the capacity and legitimacy in place to save lives now."

The Global Fund needs $3 billion in 2004 to fund qualified proposals. Pres. Bush plans to give only 6.6% of the total to the Global Fund in 2004, or $200 million, although the U.S. comprises 33% of the world economy. Bush promised $1 billion for the Global Fund, as part of his $3 billion Global AIDS Act, signed into law in May. Bush has broken that promise, according to advocates. "The Administration plans to isolate and underfund multilateral efforts to combat the pandemic, even if they have to mislead the public in order to do it," said Salih Booker, Director, Africa Action.

Before his confirmation hearing, Tobias drew criticism because of his lack of experience in public health and because of potential conflict of interest as a corporate Pharma CEO. Eli Lilly is a member of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, PhRMA, a group lobbying the U.S. Government to seek greater intellectual property rights to protect monopolies on expensive medicines in the developing world and whose members are major Republican campaign donors.

"Trusting this position--with so many lives at stake--to someone with no public health experience is astonishing," said Dr. Paul Zeitz, Director, Global AIDS Alliance. "Tobias told the Committee he hoped to use his pharma background to 'get a better deal' on drug prices. Negotiations with brand-name companies have never been as effective as generic competition in reducing the prices of AIDS drugs. Will this be an initiative that favors corporate cronyism over best practice?"

Tobias also claimed, erroneously, that declines in the rate of HIV infections in Uganda are the result of campaigns focused primarily on abstinence. "Promotion of abstinence has been, at best, only one aspect of a much broader campaign to reduce HIV in Uganda," notes Jodi Jacobson, Executive Director of the Center for Health and Gender Equity, "One that has included frank talk about sex at all levels of public discourse and widespread promotion of effective condom use, among other strategies."

The Administration efforts, says Jacobson, "to portray Uganda's approach as a one-dimensional strategy serves a narrow ideological agenda, in which public health and scientific evidence are virtually irrelevant." The Bush Administration's plan to make abstinence-only strategies the core of its global prevention agenda "will unquestionably lead to a more illness and death," said Jacobson.

Amendments are expected to the White House Emergency Supplemental spending bill next week that would restore global AIDS funding to the original level promised by the President. Similar amendments have already been aggressively opposed by the White House, through Senate proxies including Bill Frist (R-TN).

 

October 2, 2003

Dear Senator:

The AIDS emergency is fast becoming the worst health catastrophe in human history. Already, twenty five million people have died from AIDS. Around the world, more than 42 million people are now infected with the virus that causes AIDS. Without the hope of treatment, they too will die. In the State of the Union message, President Bush boldly proclaimed that: "This nation can lead the world in sparing innocent people from a plague of nature."

The leadership of the President's AIDS initiative is critical to the success of the overall effort to reverse the AIDS pandemic. We believe that the President's nominee, Randall Tobias, is not the appropriate person to serve as the coordinator of the President's Global AIDS Initiative. Therefore, we urge you to oppose his nomination.

Mr. Tobias has virtually no significant experience working in the field of public health or in the effort to combat AIDS. Mr. Tobias was unable in his confirmation hearing to cite any direct experience working on the issue of AIDS. The President's Global AIDS initiative deserves to be led by a qualified individual with extensive public health expertise.

Mr. Tobias' experience as a pharmaceutical executive raises serious questions of conflict of interest in the procurement of the lowest-cost medicine. Mr. Tobias is not divesting from his holdings in Eli Lilly, one of the leading members of the pharmaceutical trade association (PHRMA). PHRMA has worked tirelessly to block AIDS sufferers around the world from having access to the lowest cost-generic medicine. In his testimony, Mr. Tobias misleadingly suggested that no further obstacles remained to providing access to the lowest-cost generic medicine in the developing world.

Mr. Tobias' testimony raises serious questions about his fitness to serve as the AIDS coordinator. During his confirmation hearing, he misleadingly stated that the Global Fund could not effectively utilize additional funds. In fact, as he ought to know, the Global Fund requires billions more for its upcoming rounds of grants.

Mr. Tobias testimony also revealed a rejection of comprehensive prevention strategies in favor of a policy giving priority to abstinence-only prevention. Responding to a question about the success of Uganda's balanced ABC approach to HIV prevention, Mr. Tobias clearly indicated that he would privilege abstinence and faithfulness over condoms as a means to prevent the spread of HIV despite overwhelming evidenced that a balanced approach to prevention is the most effective and best meets the needs of women and vulnerable groups.

A well-balanced and fully funded US response to the HIV/AIDS emergency is needed now more than ever. For this reason, we respectfully urge your opposition to the nomination of Mr. Tobias.

Sincerely,

Africa Action

Advocates for Youth

AIDS Policy Project

Artists Against AIDS Worldwide

Center for Health and Gender Equity

Global AIDS Alliance

Health GAP

Keep a Child Alive

Progressive National Baptist Convention

Student Global AIDS Campaign

Washington Office on Africa

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