Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (04.15.02) - Thursday, April 18,
Back this week from a firsthand look at the African AIDS
pandemic, HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson confessed he was
"somewhat discouraged by the magnitude of the problem. It's
absolutely a moral and spiritual imperative on our part as
Americans to do what we can," said Thompson.
Such sentiments are being heard more often in Washington. Sen.
Jesse Helms wants to add $500 million in US aid to an upcoming
emergency spending bill on anti-terrorism. He is part of a
broader group of lawmakers � from African-American Democrats
to conservative Republicans � who are pushing for more
international AIDS funding. Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold, who
chairs a subcommittee on Africa, said, "The moral imperative
of it is starting to overwhelm people."
A December Better World Foundation poll recently announced
that 54 percent of Americans called the spread of AIDS in
Africa an "extremely serious" problem, and 45 percent said the
US was spending too little internationally on the crisis.
While the Sept. 11 attacks initially sidetracked the issue
here, funding for AIDS programs abroad is now gaining
momentum. "It's actually benefiting from 9-11, from the search
for instruments in promoting security and stability and making
new friends," said J. Stephen Morrison, head of the HIV/AIDS
task force at the Center for Strategic and International
Media attention has grown, with celebrities such as rock stars
Bono and Elton John and actor Danny Glover crusading for AIDS
funding. Evangelist Franklin Graham, Billy Graham's son, has
also taken up the issue. And the interest of Thompson and
Secretary of State Colin Powell has led to more engagement in
the crisis, said Morrison.
Bush has offered $500 million over two years to the UN Global
Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, and an additional $902
million in AIDS funds to be spent directly by US agencies.
Feingold said it's "way too small of a commitment for a
country like ours."
"We are doing our part," Thompson said. "This is a problem for
the world community." The US commitment is about one-quarter
of all international pledges to the fund. Thompson is the US
Government's representative on the global fund's board, which
meets in New York April 22 to begin making its first rounds of