Saturday, July 02, 2005

The Foreign Aid Program That Isn't

Jeanne at Body and Soul and John Aravosis at AMERICABlog both have posts about Bush's announcement of a new aid package to fight poverty and disease in Africa.

Jeanne points to a Washington Post article about the Bush administration taking credit for gains made by Botswana in fighting AIDS. At the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland, in January, representatives of the U.S. global AIDS-fighting program claimed that almost 33,000 AIDS patients in Botswana were receiving life-extending treatment with money contributed by the United States. But when Botswana heard about these claims, they quickly retorted that they had yet to receive a single penny of the millions of dollars they had been promised.

The operations manager of Botswana's treatment program, Segolame Ramotlhwa, called the U.S. figures "a gross misrepresentation of the facts." His boss, Patson Mazonde, who as deputy permanent secretary for health services had overseen the program since its inception in 2002, called the Bush claim "false" but suggested it was merely a mistake.

They agreed on the number of patients in Botswana who had been put on treatment because of the Bush program: zero.

The Bush administration insists that they have fulfilled their financial support commitments to Botswana, although they backed off the figure initially claimed. And they may have indeed done so -- under their definition of support.

In March, in an annual report on the program, the Bush administration said support could include general "system strengthening" -- a category so broad that it could allow officials to claim to have supported treatment of any AIDS patient who benefited, however indirectly, from U.S. government assistance.

The head of the Bush administration's program in Botswana, Peter H. Kilmarx, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, said in an interview here in May that he was aware of the upset among the Botswanan officials but that the treatment claims fit within U.S. government guidelines. The definition used for measuring support, he said, had broadened to the point that even assistance as trivial as editing a government health official's speeches could allow the Bush program to say it had supported treatment for everyone receiving antiretrovirals from that nation's public health system.

So does this mean that if I proofread an article about breast cancer in a professional medical journal, I can say I have supported the cost of chemotherapy and other life-saving treatment for all women receiving such treatment in the entire United States public health system?

John at AMERICAblog tells us, by way of an article by Rupert Cornwell and Ben Russell in the (UK) Independent, that Bush is playing the same kind of con game with anti-malaria aid.

The malaria initiative would merely take money from existing health programmes, said Tom Lantos, the senior Democrat on the House International Relations Committee. The Bush White House was "playing a shell game" with all aid to Africa, except for its "high-profile efforts on Aids."

John at AMERICAblog says Bush has engaged in this sleight-of-hand before.

This dodge reached its obscene peak in Darfur, where Bush moved in funds to feed the starving children in that war-torn area ravaged by genocide. But how did Bush feed those kids? By moving funding away from other regions of the Sudan and focusing on Darfur because that's where the world was watching. Quite literally, he took food out of the mouths of little children to feed other children farther away and called it humanitarian relief.

Now he's doing the same thing with malaria funding. What would Jesus do? Give until it hurts or, like Bush, hurt until people give in?

I think when it comes to what Jesus would do, George W. Bush asks himself that question, and then does exactly the opposite.

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