HIV/AIDS in Africa: Did President Bush Visit to Africa Move Remedial Efforts Forward?

By Chinua Akukwe

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

July 23, 2003


President recently completed a lightning five-day, five-nation visit to Africa. During this visit, Africa was constantly in the news as the President moved from one nation to the other. A major question has been the impact of the president's visit on HIV/AIDS remedial efforts in Africa. Did President Bush visit move forward the agenda for HIV/AIDS remedial efforts in Africa? I briefly explore this question from five perspectives.

First, a five-day visit, even by the most powerful political leader in the world, is unlikely to dramatically move forward a growing catastrophe of more than 20 years. Every day, at least 6800 Africans die of AIDS. A lightning visit can hardly alter this reality. However, the visit did shine an enduring spotlight on health and development challenges that Africa is facing, including the deadly epidemic of HIV/AIDS. No matter the efforts of the African hosts to spruce up their country in readiness for President Bush's visit, the ongoing economic and social problems in Africa could never be hidden or tucked away. George Bush, I believe, saw first hand the development challenges of Africa.

Second, George Bush himself, saw first hand the menace of HIV/AIDS in Africa, the woeful lack of resources to tackle the epidemic, and the needless wasting of lives that could benefit from readily available stock of antiretroviral therapy. Let nobody underestimate the power of first impressions and real "live" demonstration of issues for a consummate politician. I believe that George Bush that went to Africa dramatically increased his awareness about the HIV/AIDS epidemic and it's vice grip on the lives of Africans.

Third, the visit did put Africa/United States relations under scrutiny. Is United States of America doing enough to assist impoverished African countries fight HIV/AIDS, poverty and other infectious diseases? Is the United States doing enough to assist Africa trade its way out of poverty? Is the only super power doing enough to assist poor African countries improve the social and economic conditions of their people? Is the ultimate economic power on earth doing enough to persuade young Africans that the future is bright and the road to emancipation is through peaceful resolution of political and economic differences? These questions are important since HIV/AIDS remedial efforts should be intricately linked with advances in economic and social conditions.

Fourth, the president's visit highlighted the vast economic potentials of Africa and how these potentials could be harnessed for accelerated development if genuine partnership exists between Africa and its Western trading partners. Again, a genuine development partnership between Africa and its Western allies will have positive effects on HIV/AIDS remedial efforts by creating wealth for Africans (not just poverty alleviation), improving governance, and encouraging the participation of all stakeholders in the political process. Many African countries depend on the volatile, internationally set prices of their unprocessed farm products and natural resources for precious foreign exchange. Yet, African farmers, the engine room of most economies in Africa, are effectively shut out of American markets by high tariffs. It is no coincidence that African leaders are now focusing on better trade, in addition to more foreign aid.

Fifth, the president's visit put a major searchlight on what African leaders are doing or not doing in the fight against HIV/AIDS. I am a firm believer that the first line of leadership in the fight against HIV/AIDS in Africa revolves around its leaders. President Museveni of Uganda deservedly gets a lot of kudos for his courageous fight against HIV/AIDS. Other African leaders are not as bold, with disastrous consequences for their citizens. It is also instructive to note that George Bush was visiting Africa around the same time as the congregation of African leaders for the African Union meeting in Maputo, Mozambique. That the president skipped Maputo may suggest a wait-and-see attitude about the latest attempt by African leaders to confront their continental problems and solve them, accordingly.

Ultimately, the impact of the President's visit to Africa regarding HIV/AIDS remedial efforts in Africa will revolve around specific, timely deliverables in Africa by the United States. These deliverables are urgently needed in the following areas: Community-based prevention programs; access to lifesaving medicines; support for families affected by the epidemic, including AIDS orphans; support for the Global Fund for AIDS, TB and Malaria; and, helping Africa trade its way out of poverty. In the memory of millions of Africans that have died and millions more at risk, Africans and Western nations led by the United States cannot afford any delay in mounting a vigorous, sustained response against HIV/AIDS.

President George Bush confounded his critics by his $15 billion bold initiative on HIV/AIDS for twelve African nations and two countries in the Caribbean. He visited Africa and saw first hand the monumental challenges. The president can again confound his critics by ensuring that bold action steps are taken by the United States to speed up HIV/AIDS remedial efforts in Africa.

About the Author: Dr. Chinua Akukwe ( is a member of the Board of Directors of the Constituency for Africa, Washington, DC and a former Vice Chairman of the National Council for International Health (NCIH) now known as the Global Health Council, Washington, DC.