USIA Washington File - 16 September 1999
Washington -- The U.S. government wants to be "a critical
partner" with Africans in battling what has become a modern
scourge of "almost biblical proportions" -- the HIV/AIDS
infection, says Sandra Thurman, White House director of the
Office of National AIDS Policy.
Thurman told a September 15 morning conference sponsored by the
Corporate Council on Africa (CCA) and the Constituency for
Africa (CFA), that "the impact of AIDS in Africa, from the
social perspective, is simply staggering." Twelve million
Africans have already succumbed to infection from the virus,
which has no known cure, and more than 11,000 new cases develop
every day on the continent, she said.
Thurman noted that "in just the last 15 or so years, AIDS has
virtually wiped out all the progress we've made in development
in Africa ... and that amounts to an investment of billions of
dollars. If you look at what is going to happen in just the
next couple of years, AIDS will double infant mortality, triple
child mortality, and slash life expectancy in many African
countries by 20 years."
Already, in Zimbabwe, life expectancy has gone from 59 years to
37 years, she added. But there are successes, Thurman said --
for example, in Uganda, where President Yoweri Museveni's
leadership has led to an almost 50 percent drop in the
Thurman, who has made four trips to Africa in the past year,
noted that there has been "critical resistance to talking about
AIDS in some countries." But when its effects and threat to
society and the economy are acknowledged, as President Museveni
did in Uganda, she emphasized, a foundation is built on which
other steps can be taken to successfully battle the scourge.
As far as U.S. policy is concerned, Thurman said it is
important to remember that AIDS is "not just a health problem,"
but also a trade problem, as well as a problem for democracy
and civil society. "And since Africa is a critical economic
partner to the U.S., a successful fight against AIDS is
fundamentally important to our ability to sustain economic
development and growth and the partnerships that we've built up
now," she said.
Thurman pointed out that since 1986 the United States has spent
$1,000 million fighting AIDS in Africa, and she added that this
"strong engagement" will continue in the form of a new AIDS
initiative for Africa that President Clinton approved last
July. She mentioned that the initiative will double the funds
the United States spends on AIDS in Africa.
The programs in the aid package, she explained, will focus on
AIDS prevention and care of children whose parents have died
from AIDS. "In Africa we see an entire generation" of young
people in danger, Thurman told her audience. In some countries,
she said, one-fifth to one-third of all children have now been
orphaned and in the next 10 years it is estimated that 40
million African children will be without parents because of the
disease. The equivalent in the United States would be to orphan
every child east of the Mississippi River, she said.
But all is not gloom and despair, Thurman said. "There are
incredible organizations all across Africa who have come
together and are doing incredible work on the ground. People
are mobilizing to fight HIV/AIDS and to provide for" its
victims, and the U.S. government will continue to work hand in
hand with African governments and NGOs to battle the disease,
which kills 5,500 Africans every day.
Another U.S. federal agency concerned with helping Africans
fight AIDS is the Commerce Department, whose deputy director
for Africa in the International Trade Administration, Jerry
Feldman, spoke to the AIDS forum.
Now that many African nations have "reversed the long period of
economic stagnation," averaging an economic growth rate of
around 5 percent since 1995, Feldman, like Thurman, said there
are real concerns that "the gains may be reversed" by the
To counter that prospect, Feldman said, the Commerce Department
wants to involve business, both in Africa and America, in the
struggle to preserve hard-won social and economic gains.
Feldman mentioned the phenomenon in Africa where companies hire
two or three people for training in a position, "hoping one
will live" and not succumb to AIDS, adding, "We discussed how
we could make the biggest impact in Africa and decided it was
through outreach programs with companies, discussing the
disease with their workers."
Congress also has an initiative on track to help Africans
combat AIDS in the form of a bill proposed by members of the
Congressional Black Caucus and championed by Representative
Barbara Lee of California. Called "The AIDS Marshall Plan Fund
for Africa" (H.R. 2675), the proposal seeks to establish a
program "to provide assistance for HIV/AIDS research,
prevention, and treatment activities in Africa," as stated in
Lee, who attended the AIDS forum, said, "We need to move
forward in a bold and innovative way to battle AIDS." The bill
would do this, she added, by increasing U.S. AIDS assistance to
Africa to $200 million a year. "We want to be a world leader in
attacking this international crisis," she said, and the bill
will help achieve that goal.
Under the bill, the AIDS funding would be administered by a
corporation established by Congress called the AIDS Marshall
Plan Fund for Africa Corporation (AMPFA). It would be an
independent agency of the federal government that would work in
conjunction with the White House and the Overseas Private
Investment Corporation (OPIC), as well as with the heads of
other federal agencies involved in HIV/AIDS activities in
Former U.S. Ambassador to South Africa Princeton Lyman asked
Lee if the bill would have a greater impact if it included all
nations, not just Africa, and Lee replied, "We looked at that
possibility, but decided that we had to start somewhere -- and
considering that Africa accounts for more than 50 percent of
the world's cases, we choose to focus on the continent."