March 10, 1999
As members of community based organizations leading the fight against AIDS in this country, and as concerned citizens, we, the listed groups, urge you to support the "HOPE for Africa Act" (H.R. 772). This crucial legislation will help sub-Saharan African nations make life-saving pharmaceuticals available to HIV/AIDS patients, and represents a practical, cost-effective way to combat the global AIDS crisis.
In tandem with your support for H.R. 772, we urge you to oppose the so-called "African Growth and Opportunity Act" (H.R. 434). If passed, H.R. 434 would perpetuate a cruel economic policy that ultimately discourages public investment in social services like healthcare, and thus is antithetical to addressing the plight of sub-Saharan Africans with HIV/AIDS.
As you are surely aware, HIV and AIDS are rampaging throughout sub-Saharan Africa. While sub-Saharan nations comprise only 10% of the world's population, they are bearing the tragic burden of 70% of the world s new AIDS cases. The World Health Organization reports that of the 14 million people who have died of AIDS to date, 12 million have come from this region. In the hardest-hit countries--Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Swaziland, infection rates in the 15-49 age group are running at 25%. In tourist areas such as Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, the rates are even higher -- 40%.
Unfortunately, the effects of this rampaging epidemic are widespread: sub-Saharan African economies are already being slowed by the mortality of men and women of working age, with inevitable repercussions to a global market economy. It has been widely reported that the possible gains associated with billions of development dollars invested in Africa over the past 15 years by industrialized nations have been seriously eroded by the relentless march of this plague. In the arena of the public health, AIDS is giving rise to an explosion of such highly contagious diseases as meningitis and tuberculosis.
In the absence of either a cure or a vaccine in the foreseeable future, we ignore the facts of AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa at our peril. This is an issue of profound importance to all Americans--not only because we have the resources and the power to make a difference, but also because we live in a world where interdependence and mutual responsibility are facts of life.
We--you--can act: first by opposing H.R. 434. It not only ignores the AIDS crisis; it requires the President to certify that indebted SSA countries are complying with their inhumane International Monetary Fund (IMF) structural adjustment programs. Compliance forces SSA governments to direct domestic spending to debt repayment instead of to life-saving health care and educational initiatives. Indeed, H.R. 434 extends the "slash public spending" model to all SSA nations wishing to be certified by the President.
You can also act by supporting the HOPE for Africa Act (H.R. 772). The HOPE for Africa Act provides a combination of aid, debt relief and policies specifically designed to increase the availability of life-extending medications to sub-Saharan Africans with HIV/AIDS. H.R. 772 would prohibit the use of United States funds to undermine any sub-Saharan African intellectual property or competition policy that seeks to promote access to pharmaceuticals and other medical technologies, so long as the legislation or policy complies with the WTO s agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS).
HOPE would create a cooperative relationship between the U.S. and SSA, by making it U.S. policy to assist sub-Saharan African countries in efforts to make life-saving medications and medical technologies widely available through compulsory licensing and parallel importing.
As organizations leading the domestic fight against AIDS, we strongly urge you to oppose H.R. 434, and any other Africa bill that would undermine the development of a sound health policy in SSA. Worldwide, 14 million people have already died from AIDS. In the next six years, 13 million will die from AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa alone. Please support the HOPE for Africa Act, and join us in mounting an effective response to the AIDS epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa.