A $50 Billion Bill for “prestige, esteem and respect”

The Senate approved the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), agreeing to give away $50 billion of American taxpayer money to African countries to help stop the spread of AIDS. Current estimates are that 33 million people worldwide suffer from the disease. That is less than one half of one percent of the total population.

The Washington Post describes how AIDS in Africa was overstated:

The United Nations started to revise its estimates in light of the new studies in its 2004 report, reducing the number of infections in Africa by 4.4 million, back to the total four years earlier of 25 million. It also gradually decreased the overall infection rate for working-age adults in sub-Saharan Africa, from 9 percent in a 2002 report to 7.2 percent in its latest report, released in November.

Peter Ghys, an epidemiologist who has worked for UNAIDS since 1999, acknowledged in an interview from his office in Geneva that HIV projections several years ago were too high because they relied on data from prenatal clinics.

But Ghys said the agency made the best estimates possible with the information available. As better data emerged, such as the new wave of national population studies, it has made revisions where necessary, he said.

“What has happened is we have come to realize that indeed we have overestimated the epidemic a bit,” he said.

On its Web site, UNAIDS describes itself as “the chief advocate for worldwide action against AIDS.” And many researchers say the United Nations’ reliance on rigorous science waned after it created the separate AIDS agency in 1995 — the first time the world body had taken this approach to tackle a single disease.

In the place of previous estimates provided by the World Health Organization, outside researchers say, the AIDS agency produced reports that increasingly were subject to political calculations, with the emphasis on raising awareness and money.

“It’s pure advocacy, really,” said Jim Chin, a former U.N. official who made some of the first global HIV prevalence estimates while working for WHO in the late 1980s and early 1990s. “Once you get a high number, it’s really hard once the data comes in to say, ‘Whoops! It’s not 100,000. It’s 60,000.’ “

The way the politicians in Washington talk, you would think we were on the brink of a pandemic.

One time presidential hopeful Joe Biden called PEPFAR the “the single most significant thing the president has done.” RINO Senator Richard Lugar said the program “has helped to prevent instability and societal collapse in a number of at-risk countries.” Republican Tom Coburn, who fought to ensure the funding actually went towards treatment and not other programs, said “this is our most successful foreign policy initiative in my lifetime. This is the most effective thing we have done to build America’s prestige, esteem and respect.”

That may very well be, but it remains to be seen if it is money spent wisely. The AP reports:

The White House, which supports the new bill, said the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, known as PEPFAR, has helped bring lifesaving anti-retroviral drugs to some 1.7 million people and has supported care for nearly 7 million, including about 2.7 million AIDS orphans and vulnerable children.

Before the program began, only 50,000 in all of sub-Saharan Africa were receiving anti-retroviral drugs.

Those are some compelling statistics. According to Avert.com, “At the end of 2007 there were an estimated 22.5 million people living with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa (the part below the Sahara desert), and 380,000 in North Africa and the Middle East. AIDS is now the leading cause of death in sub-Saharan Africa – killing an estimated 1.6 million people in 2007 alone. In the same year another 1.7 million became infected with HIV.”

Out of 33 million infected world-wide, 22.5 million live in sub-Saharan Africa. What is going on there that is resulting in such high numbers?

Part of it could be the Bangui definition for AIDS. In 1985, the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization met in Bangui, Central African Republic. It was here they created the Bangui definition, which was to be used to diagnose AIDS when HIV tests were not available. That’s right, they are not even checking for HIV.

The Bangui definition lists specific symptoms the health service provider should look for, such as:

  • Weight loss exceeding 10% of body weight
  • Continuous or repeated attacks of fever for more than a month
  • Cough
  • Diarrhea lasting for more than a month
  • Generalized adenopathy (swollen lymphnodes)
  • Yeast infection
  • physical weakness and loss of strength.

If you have combination of those symptoms that get a score of 12 on the scorecard, you have AIDS. Good thing there aren’t any other diseases common in Africa with those same symptoms.

Another thing that might be causing two-thirds of the world’s AIDS patients to live in Africa is false positives caused by pregnancy or other diseases endemic to Africa. On page 100 of HIV, AIDS, and Reproductive Health (Caution: pdf), the CDC writes “All HIV testing is subject to error and laboratory workers with less experience have high rates of false results.” They also wrote about the need for follow up tests due to “the high rate of false-positive screening tests.”

So in the instance where they are not relying on yeast infection to diagnose AIDS, there is a probability of false positives. With the lack of HIV tests in Africa, how often do you think there is a follow-up test?

But let’s give the doctors and nurses the benefit of the doubt and say that all of the people they have diagnosed with AIDS actually have the disease. First off, how did they get it?

According to Avert.com, there are a few things that “influence the rate at which HIV is transmitted.”

Such factors include poverty; economic disparity; social instability; gender inequality; sexual violence; other sexually transmitted infections (which facilitate HIV transmission); lack of male circumcision; high mobility; rapid urbanisation and modernisation; and ineffective leadership during critical periods in the epidemic’s spread.

Well, there it is. It’s that damn poverty again. That explanation for the spread of AIDS in Africa may be the scariest thing I read in researching this article. If this is how they think it is spreading, no wonder it is going gangbusters.

While we know how this is being spread, did you know that at one time, the percentage of infected Ugandans dropped from 22% to 6%?

That was before help arrived:

In the late 1980s, before international experts arrived to tell us we had it all “wrong,” we in Uganda devised a practical campaign to prevent the spread of HIV. We recognized that population-wide AIDS epidemics in Africa were driven by people having sex with more than one regular partner. Therefore, we urged people to be faithful. Our campaign was called ABC (Abstain, or Be Faithful, or use Condoms), but our main message was: Stick to one partner. We promoted condoms only as a last resort.

Because we knew what to do in our country, we succeeded. The proportion of Ugandans infected with HIV plunged from 21 percent in 1991 to 6 percent in 2002.

During the same time, the percentage of Ugandan men with more than three sexual partners dropped from 15% to 3%. It seems the people responsible for this program knew what they were doing and were even running this program for 29 cents a person, per year. Compare that to $1000 a person per year for retro-viral drugs and you can see the size of their success.

But international AIDS experts who came to Uganda said we were wrong to try to limit people’s sexual freedom. Worse, they had the financial power to force their casual-sex agendas upon us.

PEPFAR calls for Western experts to work as equal partners with African leaders on AIDS prevention. But as co-chair of Uganda’s National AIDS-Prevention Committee, I have seen this process sabotaged. Repeatedly, our 25-member prevention committee put faithfulness and abstinence into the National Strategic Plan that guides how PEPFAR money for our country will be spent. Repeatedly, foreign advisers erased our recommendations. When the document draft was published, fidelity and abstinence were missing.

Condoms were still on the list, though. However, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, “condoms meant for free distribution are routinely sold.”

According to Rev. Sam L. Ruteikara, co-chair of Uganda’s National AIDS-Prevention Committee, “As fidelity and abstinence have been subverted, Uganda’s HIV rates have begun to tick back up.”

Billions of dollars in exported liberalism. And as usual, Quinn’s first law rings true.

In America, the federal government spends 21 times more money on AIDS as we do on cancer. It spend 78 times more money on AIDS as we do on heart disease. Anti-stroke funding? AIDS gets 97 times more money.

As reported in the New York Post, “the Ryan White Act mandates taxpayer handouts to HIV/AIDS victims of about $1.2 billion a year. We have no remotely similar program for victims of any other disease.”

All this money for a disease that the World Health Organization’s top HIV expert says is “largely confined to gay men, drug addicts and prostitutes and their clients,” i.e. largely preventable.

Let’s get money over there to help them but the same amount of money Congress and Bush want to give away could be generated through charity. Back in 2000, Bill Gates gave $57 million to fight against AIDS in Africa. Warren Buffet donated $30 billion to the Gates Foundation. They are just two of 946 billionaires in the world.

Last year, Jerry Lewis raised $63 million in less than 24 hours. Also in 2007, Americans gave $300 billion to charity, on top of what they paid in taxes.

As generous as the American citizen already is, there is no reason for our government to pay another $50 billion for “prestige, esteem and respect.” If $300 billion in charity a year isn’t enough, another $10 billion isn’t going to impress anyone. Besides, the government has other issues they need to focus on.

This was cross posted at All American Blogger, where you can find other great original articles.

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