TCS Daily

Yankee, Stay Home

By James K. Glassman - July 13, 2004 12:00 AM

BANGKOK - This city of glorious Buddhist temples and gigantic traffic jams is hosting 20,000 delegates from 160 countries - along with celebs like Ashley Judd, Richard Gere, Oprah Winfrey and Rupert Everett - at the 15th international conference to fight AIDS.

But, as usual at these global extravaganzas, the real agenda is kick the United States in the butt.

Never mind that U.S. taxpayers will provide more money this year to fight AIDS than the governments of the rest of the world combined. Never mind that U.S. research and development has given the world the drugs that now prevent a diagnosis of HIV infection from becoming a death sentence.

Americans are the villains. U.S. officials here are shouted down at press conferences. Journalists stampede to childish demonstrations featuring placards of President Bush smeared with blood. The conference co-chairman says it is "shameful" that the U.S. delegation isn't larger.

Everett, wearing a sleeveless black tee-shirt and jeans, declared at a press event that what is "extremely frightening about PEPFAR [the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief] is its judgmental attitude toward this subject we are dealing with - sex."

Nonsense. Prevention is a big part of PEPFAR's mandate, and the U.S. gives away more condoms to developing nations than any other country. American policy supports the "ABC" program that's worked so well in Uganda: abstain, be faithful and use condoms.

Since it's hard to ignore that the U.S. gives out bushels of money to fight AIDS, we're now vilified, as in a flier from the group Health GAP, for promoting "treatment and prevention plans that pander to conservative religious special interests and to the powerful American pharmaceutical lobby."

This, too, is nonsense. Randall Tobias, the president's energetic AIDS czar, in charge of dispensing $15 billion to battle the disease in 15 poor countries over the next five years, stated loud and clear that he will buy drugs made in any nation - including (inappropriately, in my view) Indian knock-offs of medicines invented and patented by American firms that have spent billions on R&D.

The only stipulation: the drugs have to be "safe and effective." In other words, no double standards. The U.S., unlike groups like Doctors Without Borders, whose haughty officials are ubiquitous here, respects the right of Africans be treated with the same high-quality drugs as Europeans and Americans.

Tobias has even made it cheaper and faster to get approval, but, so far, not a single copycat drug company has applied for clearance. Oh, and, by the way, the activists say that's our fault too.

I attend two or three global health and environmental conferences like this each year, and I have come to conclusion that it's time for the U.S. government and U.S. businesses to just say no. Yankee, stay home. Or go to Africa, where those we help appreciate us.

Yes, we should continue to fight AIDS with all the resources we can muster. It is the most important humanitarian cause in the world. But do it on the ground in poor countries and at serious academic conclaves, not at sicko carnivals like this one.

What Americans are doing to fight AIDS in Africa - an effort I saw firsthand last December -- is inspirational, even breathtaking. But here in Bangkok there is no word of thanks to the United States, or to President Bush, far and away the world's top leader in the battle against the disease.

Just as vexing, the official U.S. exhibition at the conference features no picture of Bush, no American flags. Our own AIDS execs appear embarrassed to be identified as Americans. To be fair, this is the pattern throughout the world. The U.S. spends billions on global welfare, but we're afraid to tell anyone.

Instead, every American should be proud that while the European sophisticates sneer and the noisy activists shout, the United States actually does something significant to fight a disease that infects 40 million people worldwide and kills 3 million a year. We're inventing the drugs, building the hospitals, training the health-care workers, caring for the patients, nurturing the orphans, and providing the hard cash.

We are nuts, however, to walk around with a "kick me" sign on our backs. The next one of these meetings is set for Toronto Aug. 13-16, 2006. That week, Americans should be in Africa and Asia helping people with AIDS, not in Canada fending off insults from ingrates and morons.


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