Monday, May 29, 2006

Giving too much credit

As the lead-in for Washington Post's “Bush's Talk And Results On AIDS,” Sebastian Mallaby states that credit “is due – big time.” Maybe some credit is due, but Mallaby didn’t prove it.

Mallaby states the first concern was that Bush wouldn’t deliver the $15 billion over five years that he promised in 2003 for AIDS treatment overseas. Mallaby says Bush underdelivered in early years but is overdelivering now, so he should exceed his target. Several problems here - first, Mallaby left out any verifying link, so I'll just hope that he didn't mess up the numbers. Second, the 2007 figure is only Bush's proposal, we'll have to see if he goes to bat for it in Congress to see it pass. Third, Mallaby gives global AIDS assistance figures, but Bush expressly promised $15b "to turn the tide against AIDS in the most afflicted nations of Africa and the Caribbean." Until we know what subset of the actual money went to Africa and the Caribbean, we won't know if Bush delivered.

Mallaby's second defense is against the charge that taxpayer-funded assistance would be wasted on Big Pharma brand-name drugs, instead of cheap foreign generics. Mallaby says "in 2004, the administration fixed this problem. It directed the FDA to license generics for use in U.S. global AIDS programs....and in some countries around two-thirds of U.S. spending on AIDS drugs now goes to non-branded medicines." This time he gave a link(pdf), and it doesn't help him much. No money appears to have been spent on generics until 2005 (p.4 of the pdf) and that was only in four countries. The two-thirds figure applies only to those four countries (p.9, for $4.3m) out of apparently 15 in the program. For Mallaby to add, "Given how often foreign aid is tied to exports from donor countries, it's remarkable that the Bush team stiffed Big Pharma...." is a huge overstatement. I'd guess that most of the drug money will go to Big Pharma over the course of five years, and in any event, my understanding is that America is particularly bad in requiring its aid to be spent on its own exports.

The rest of the article is an attempt at measured criticism of Bush's initiative, saying the damage from some other stupid stuff is somewhat limited. Maybe.

I hesitated to blog about this because I'm far from an expert, but I'm just an unpaid web-ranter. If Mallaby is going to use prime media real estate on this, he needs to do a better job.

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