False promise

The global effort to combat the three deadliest infectious diseases — AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria — had a rare celebration 14 months ago when President Bush pledged to donate $15 billion to fight AIDS over three years. Since then, US outlays have been a fraction of the promised amount. And the US is refusing to fund AIDS programmes that use generic drugs, which cost far less than brand-name drugs.

History will judge leaders as much on what they have done to keep these diseases in check as on their efforts against terrorism, as destructive as that scourge is. AIDS kills 3 million a year; TB, 2 million; and malaria, 1.2 million.

Stephen Lewis, the UN envoy for AIDS in Africa, sounded the alarm at a press conference early this month. If the UN’s Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria does not meet its goal for supplying anti-retroviral to AIDS patients, he said, “there are no excuses left, no rationalisations to hide behind, no murky slanders to justify indifference — there will only be the mass graves of the betrayed.” Infection by both TB and AIDS is making both diseases more deadly. The fight to control TB is complicated by the increased mobility of populations, and by the emergence of TB strains that are resistant to several drugs. The US should relent in its opposition to the generics and fulfil Bush’s $15 billion pledge. — The Boston Globe