Clinton Approves AIDS Trust Fund

A week before his trip to Africa, President Clinton signed a bill today that sets up a global trust fund for AIDS victims that has been likened to a kind of Marshall Plan against the infectious disease—the leading cause of death on the African continent.

The measure, signed in Lake Placid, where Clinton was celebrating his 54th birthday with his family, creates a World Bank AIDS Trust Fund to provide grants for AIDS prevention, care and education to countries hardest hit by the disease.

It also authorizes funding for the administration’s fiscal 2001 initiatives to fight HIV and AIDS worldwide and strengthens the U.S. response to the pandemic that killed 2.8 million people across the globe last year.

A Threat to Fragile Democracies

The bill includes $300 million for the U.S. Agency for International Development to pay for education, voluntary testing and counseling, prevention of mother-to-child transmission and care for those living with HIV or AIDS.

It also authorizes $50 million in new funding for the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization; $10 million for the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative; and $60 million to fight tuberculosis—the single largest killer of adults worldwide and the leading cause of death of those with AIDS.

“Fighting AIDS worldwide is not just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing. In our tightly connected world, infectious disease anywhere is a threat to public health everywhere,” Clinton said in his weekly radio address. “AIDS threatens the economies of the poorest countries, the stability of friendly nations, the future of fragile democracies.”

U.S. Hopes For More Donors

Clinton, who travels to Nigeria and Tanzania next week, is directing Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers to begin negotiations with the World Bank to set up the trust fund.

The bill, passed by Congress last month, authorizes U.S. contributions of $150 million a year for two years. The money is intended as a springboard to bring in up to $1 billion a year from international donors. The House had pushed for a $500 million U.S. contribution over five years, but the Senate scaled it back.

The trust fund “represents an extraordinary effort to move with urgency to address the horrific AIDS epidemic,” said Rep. Jim Leach, R-Iowa, House sponsor of the bill. “It is our hope and expectation that the annual contribution from the U.S. will leverage enough contributions from other donors to increase several fold the size of the trust fund.”

The fund, administered by the U.S. representative to the World Bank board of trustees, will gather public and private funding to combat the spread of HIV and AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa which has 10 percent of the world’s population but 70 percent of the world’s AIDS cases.

Marshall Plan for AIDS

“Some are calling it the Marshall Plan for AIDS,” said Sandra Thurman, director of the AIDS policy office at the White House, referring to the massive plan for the economic recovery of Europe after World War II. “We’re looking at a pandemic the likes of which we have never seen.”

AIDS kills 6,000 people a day in Africa and has orphaned some 15 percent of children in the worst-affected cities. The United Nations has predicted the disease will wipe out half the teen-age population in some poor African countries. By some estimates, the disease will lower life expectancy in sub-Saharan Africa from 59 years in the early 1990s to 45 by 2015.

American attention to the AIDS crisis has taken on a new dimension in recent months since the administration declared it a national security threat that could destabilize fragile democracies and crush economic progress for whole continents.

Five major pharmaceutical companies, responding to complaints that new effective AIDS treatments are beyond the reach of millions of Africans because of high costs, have agreed to make substantial cuts in the price of AIDS drugs for Africa and other developing countries.