Friday, January 31, 2003

I was cheered by one particular pledge by President Bush in the State of the Union address on Tuesday. That was the proposal to provide 15 billion dollars over 5 years for AIDS prevention and treatment in Africa and in the Caribbean. The amount currently allotted is 5 billion dollars; therefore the proposal would TRIPLE U.S. funding for this noble purpose.

Mike Allen and Paul Blustein have written a nice article about this in today's Washington Post ("Unlikely Allies Influenced Bush to Shift Course on AIDS Relief"). Given the magnitude of the international AIDS crisis, I disagree with Mr. Allen and Mr. Blustein when they state that the U.S. would "spend lavishly" on AIDS under the President's plan. 3 billion per year is very good, and I will be grateful if Congress appropriates this amount, but it is not a huge amount. It won't add much to the budget deficit, it won't detract much from taxpayers' pocketbooks, and it is not a waste of money because it will save millions of lives.

I expect that the initiative will include money to prevent perinatal transmission of HIV. With perinatal transmission of HIV, babies born to HIV-infected mothers become infected with HIV (the virus that causes AIDS) shortly before or during birth. Thankfully, it is possible to substantially reduce the risk of perinatal transmission of HIV with antiretroviral drug treatment regimens for pregnant women. Because of this, most babies born to HIV-infected mothers in the United States never develop HIV infection. Since African babies deserve the same protection as American babies, reducing perinatal transmission of HIV in Africa is well worth the effort and the expenditure.

Here's an optimistic prediction. The President's AIDS relief proposal will pass easily (Dr. Frist, the Senate Majority Leader, has long been a strong supporter), and for the first time in history, an Irish rock singer will attend a White House signing ceremony. I refer, of course, to U2's Bono -- a great humanitarian, and a great musician.

Wednesday, January 29, 2003

I realized today that the New York Times has a team of excellent journalists working in Iraq. I have read, and admired, many pieces by John F. Burns, who somehow manages to write about many of the Iraqi government's horrible abuses, and about growing dissent among the Iraqi people, from Baghdad. Today's New York Times contains very interesting articles from Iraq by two other journalists, C. J. Chivers and Ian Fisher.

C. J. Chivers' article, posted from Sulaimaniya in the Kurdish enclave in northern Iraq, is titled "Kurdish Demonstrators Back War Against Hussein but Want Gas Masks". Dr. Fayaq Muhammad Golpi, a physician who heads the Anti-Chemical Weapons Society of Kurdistan, voices support for the proposed U.S.-led liberation of Iraq, but he asks for help from the world to prevent deaths in case Saddam Hussein launches another chemical attack on the Kurds. The previous attack, on Halabja in 1988, led to 5000 civilian deaths. The Kurds in Sulaimaniya have no gas masks, no protective gear, and very little in the way of medical supplies; they hope the United States will provide them with this equipment, and soon. Chivers' article quotes "Abdul-Razzaq Mirza", "minister of relations and cooperation for the eastern Kurdistan zone", as follows: "They have not given it to us yet. But I am sure they are going to help us. They are not going to leave us to genocide again." (Incidentally, an opinion column in today's Washington Post by Mary Ann Smothers Bruni contains another quote by the same Kurdish official, but Ms. Bruni's column identifies him as "Abudel Razaq Faeli".) Let us hope Mr. Mirza is right. I believe he is. We are not going to abandon the Iraqi Kurds again. But why have we not yet given them what they may need to survive? It is a matter of great urgency because we should not wait until after the war begins.

Ian Fisher's article is titled "Iraqi Aide Pledges 'Extra Effort' to Cooperate with Inspectors". The gist of the article is that the Iraqi government says that it has been fully cooperating with the U.N. inspectors all along, but NOW it is ready to cooperate with them even MORE fully. I guess it's the difference between 100% and 110% cooperation. Anyway, the most interesting sentence in the article is as follows: "To Britain's Channel 4, [Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq] Aziz acknowledged that Iraq had distributed chemical weapons suits to some military units, but added however, that it would not be the first to use chemical weapons because he said it had none to use." I wish I could see the verbatim quote from Mr. Aziz, because I'm curious as to whether he actually used the word "first". (If Iraq truly has no chemical weapons, then it obviously can't use them first, second, or last.) The U.S. is not going to use chemical weapons against the Iraqi military, and the Iraqi military knows it. Therefore, the Iraqi regime's use of chemical weapons suits is ominous: it indicates that the Iraqi regime has chemical weapons, and may intend to use them in the coming war.
Thank you for visiting my weblog, which will feature argument and analysis. I am a pediatrician but the subject of this weblog will be mainly politics (not pediatrics). This first post will now end; my second will follow this morning's papers.