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Commentary & Opinion
Despite Being Largest AIDS Funder, U.S. Policy on Needle Exchange Makes It "Scoundrel" in HIV/AIDS Fight, Editorial Says

June 27, 2005

The Bush administration is "both savior and scoundrel" in the fight against HIV/AIDS because the United States is the largest funder of AIDS programs worldwide but it also "uses its muscle to extinguish necessary and successful programs it finds politically objectionable and to carry out ineffective ideological crusades," a New York Times editorial says. In recent good news, FDA last week granted tentative approval to Indian drug manufacturers Aurobindo Pharma and Ranbaxy Laboratories to produce generic versions of the antiretroviral drugs nevirapine and efavirenz, qualifying them to be included in the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, the editorial says. Although none of the seven approved generic antiretrovirals is being distributed under PEPFAR yet, the FDA approvals eventually will "allow four times as many lives to be saved for the same amount of money," according to the editorial. Despite this, the Bush administration has been on a "moral crusade" that could lead to increasing numbers of HIV/AIDS cases in Eastern Europe and Asia, the editorial says. At a UNAIDS Programme Coordinating Board meeting earlier this month, an administration official asked that all references to needle-exchange programs be excluded from the organization's governing policy paper, a request that likely will be voted on this week because of the United States' influence as UNAIDS' largest donor, according to the Times. If UNAIDS no longer promotes needle-exchange programs, countries will "los[e] a valuable source of technical help" and a "lack of consensus could keep countries from starting needle exchanges," the editorial says, concluding, "American law already forbids United States money from financing needle-exchange programs. For Washington to decide that it wants to stop everyone else from doing that as well is a breathtakingly dangerous step" (New York Times, 6/27).

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