Clinton and the implacable aids lobby

Posted: Jul 27, 2002 12:00 AM
Speaking at the PUSH-Rainbow convention in Chicago Tuesday, America's first black president, Bill Clinton, called on the United States to increase its funding of AIDS from $1 billion to $2.5 billion. Is there no limit to his approval-starved pandering? Clinton said the $1 billion we currently spend is short of our fair share. "Our share would be another $1.5 billion. That sounds like a lot of money, but it's less than two months of the Afghan war." We aren't paying our fair share, huh? I guess it depends on what the meaning of "fair" is. I wonder what other countries contribute? Clinton also referred to AIDS as a national security crisis. At first, I thought he was merely exploiting the anti-terrorism vernacular in an effort to stimulate enthusiasm for the cause. But then I remembered he had already described it as such before Sept. 11, when he was still president. In April 2000, Clinton formally declared the disease a threat to United States' national security. His reasoning, according to the Washington Post, was that the predicted "dramatic declines in life expectancy" among Africans and other poor nations as a result of AIDS would increase the risk for "revolutionary wars, ethnic wars, genocides and disruptive regime transitions." This is the type of thing we so-called Clinton bashers were talking about when we complained about Clinton's deliberate misuse of the English language. Are we expected to believe that a coalition of African nations is going to attack the American mainland because their people are dying of AIDS at a disproportionate clip through no fault of the United States? Even the Post acknowledged that "there is no recent precedent for treating disease as a security threat." Senator Trent Lott agreed, saying that Clinton was just "trying to make an appeal to certain groups." Lott was correct. Clinton had previously announced (1998) $156 million in new government funding to combat AIDS among blacks and other minorities. Clinton never tired of throwing or promising other people's money at his likely voters. That's how you define compassion in his lexicon. But getting beyond Clinton's motives, what about his claim that we are not devoting our fair share to AIDS? He couldn't possibly be talking about how much the United States spends on fighting AIDS compared to other nations. So let's look at another objective measure of AIDS spending, which is how much the federal government spends on medical research for various lethal diseases. In 1998, Congressman Ernest Istook (R-Olka.) of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health & Human Services and Education, wrote in Physician's Weekly that "Federal funding for medical research is skewed, failing to focus on diseases that cause the most suffering and death." Istook reported that the National Institutes for Health (NIH), at the time of the article, funded research "at the rate of $1,129 per heart disease death, $723 per stroke death, $4,995 per diabetes death, $4,525 per cancer death, but $31,381 per HIV/AIDS death." Further, "NIH allocates $2,100 per year for each HIV/AIDS patient (600,000 to 700,000), $200 per breast cancer patient (2 million), $338 per overall cancer patient (8 million), $40 per heart disease patient (22 million), and $20 per diabetes patient (16 million)." So when you examine the evidence, it's hard not to conclude that AIDS is receiving way more than its "fair share" of funding -- not even considering the extent to which AIDS is a behaviorally acquired disease. But the simple fact is that other diseases don't have nearly as strong a lobby, nor as politically correct a cause. And no amount of attention or funding will ever appease the AIDS activists. Remember earlier this month when HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson was nearly booed off the stage at the 14th international AIDS conference in Barcelona? At least 100 protesters rushed the stage shouting and sporting placards reading, "Bush and Thompson Wanted: For the murder and neglect of PWA's" -- meaning "persons with AIDS." We shouldn't expect President Clinton to tell the truth about AIDS, nor the Hollywood glitterati to quit moralizing with their sanctimonious ribbons, but that doesn't mean the rest of us have to fall in line like a bunch of trembling sheep. AIDS is a terrible disease, and we pray for its eradication, but the United States is not under-prioritizing it relative to other diseases. Those who say otherwise either have a political agenda to distort the data or lack the spine or integrity to tell the truth.