Bush in Africa
Bush in Africa
President Bush's five-day, five-country tour of
It should be known, first of all, how far the
In other words, some of the world's poorest countries are transferring a large amount of their income -- even after taking into account the new loans and grants that they get for development assistance -- to the vastly richer North. This includes their biggest creditors, the IMF and World Bank. The transfer is more than these countries spend for health care or education.
This debt should be cancelled, as the most knowledgeable non-governmental organizations have argued.
Even more urgently,
On the public health front, President Bush has gotten credit for pledging $15 billion over five years to help treat and prevent AIDS in Africa and the
The Bush Administration's efforts are also corrupted by the influence of the pharmaceutical industry. The big drug companies, backed by our government, have fought tenaciously for years to prevent people in poor countries from having access to more affordable, generic drugs. This is a life-and- death issue for millions of people: the drugs that keep people with HIV/AIDS alive here cost $10,000 per year, but the Indian pharmaceutical industry produces the generic equivalent for less than $250. And it is not just AIDS that afflicts people in poor countries: they also get heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and many other ailments that are common to human beings.
The rich country governments have recently made some compromises at the World Trade Organization on these issues. But the Bush team is trying to split Africa off from the hundreds of millions of people in other developing countries who have similar needs, and they are pressuring other developing countries --
This costly protectionism -- the opposite of free trade -- is bad for everyone.
Americans also have a direct interest in the outcome of this conflict. The same companies that are blocking access to generic, life-saving medicines for people in developing countries are doing similar things on the home front. They have fought for years to keep Medicare from including a prescription drug benefit.
They may have lost that battle, but their monopoly pricing policies are making prescription medicines increasingly unaffordable here. And so are the enormous costs associated with "copycat drug" research and development, advertising and promoting drugs for inappropriate uses, legal costs and other waste involved in the present patent system.
What the Bush Administration decides to do about the health crisis in
Mark Weisbrot is co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, in