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How to Break a Promise on AIDS

Here’s a good example of how to use a foreign policy argument to justify reneging on a commitment that wasn’t really supposed to be about foreign policy.

I posted on this phenomenon earlier, about how more experts these days seem to be discussing global health efforts as primarily a means for “leveraging” American foreign policy interests.

This is the video of a debate held last week in Washington, D.C., at the Center for Strategic & International Studies entitled: “Resolved: That the United States Should Slow the Growth of its Bilateral AIDS Treatment Commitments.”

The Obama Administration is already doing that, which has caused a lot of anger here and abroad by those who expected the U.S. to maintain its previously made commitment to work toward universal access to AIDS treatment worldwide.

In this webcast, former Ambassador Princeton Lyman of the Council on Foreign Relations makes the case for paring back U.S. foreign assistance on AIDS because the politics of it all is “unpleasant” (I’m not kidding) and it doesn’t really work to advance our foreign policy interests.

Todd Summers of the ONE Campaign, and a former staffer at the Gates Foundation, argues that backing away from our commitment to move toward getting AIDS drugs to more people is “morally indefensible” and also bad policy.

Due to the economic slowdown, everyone has less money. That’s the new reality.

But it’s important to note that what we’re talking about is spending maybe $100 per person per year in Africa to get AIDS drugs to millions of people infected with HIV. If we did it for everyone who needs it, that would cost something like $25 to $30 billion per year (sounds like a lot but which Summers said was about what the military spends on air conditioning in Iraq).

The question here should be if it really does make sense — in terms of the scientific evidence, public health and overall global stability — to explore cutting back on funding for AIDS treatment. Whether or not it makes sense politically should be, at best, secondary.


About Author

Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at] or follow him on Twitter @tompaulson.