The best kind of foreign aid

June 2, 2012 § Leave a comment

Aid to foreign nations is a much maligned aspect of our national budget. The Right often considers it to be a handout of the same variety we do too much of here, and the Left worries that there are plenty of concerns here without sending it overseas. Aside from those arguments, foreign aid always runs the risk of ending up in the coffers of a ruling or well-placed clique rather than the folks who truly need the funds, food, or training for which it was earmarked.

One effort which not only the U.S. but the whole world needs to stay focused on despite the worldwide economic downtown is fighting the ravages of the AIDS epidemic in Africa. People of faith took a disappointing length of time in the 1980s to take a lead role in combating this disease, possibly because the contraction of the disease has generally been limited to those who are engaging in risky and anti-social behaviors we frown on. Still, Christ calls upon us to aid the poor and sick unconditionally whatever the cost.

The fight against AIDS in western countries has gone remarkably well since the advent of the disease in the 1980s when a diagnosis of HIV was tantamount to a death sentence. The “cocktails” of anti-retroviral drugs are succeeding in reducing AIDS to a chronic but manageable condition in which sufferers can still enjoy a high quality of life. This success story does not extend to African countries where the cost of these wonder drugs are far too high for the families (or governments) to afford. The vicious cycle of poverty in many of the nations in which AIDS has reached epidemic proportions contributes to the spread of the disease. Where education is poor, methods to avoid contraction aren’t widespread. When persons fall ill, the burden of care-giving falls on their families who then may lessen their involvement in the workforce of countries already fighting poverty. If breadwinners or parents are the ones who are claimed by the disease- there are additional social and economic costs.

Many of the major multi-national pharmaceutical manufacturers compounded the desperation of the situation by enforcing their patent rights preventing the production and distribution of cheaper generic versions. Only international embarrasment saw a change in the policy and there are still occasional times where Big Pharma asserts its TRIPs (Trade-Related Intl. Property Rights) seemingly over the plight of poor-country victims.

Although the USA’s overseas reputation is not sterling due to our frequent military adventures, Geore W. Bush’s 2003 Presidential Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) was a welcome development to the dedicated efforts of a variety of non-governmental organizations and charities trying to address the epidemic in Africa.

While private citizens  can certainly contribute to any of the organizations on the ground, governments must not sit on the sidelines. Surely, the issue is not whether there is enough money available to fund this foreign aid- we already send millions of dollars to regimes with shaky committment to human rights- but if we have enough humanitarian spirit.

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