For visiting Bush, a challenge on global AIDS

The timing was perfect, but coincidental. The same weekend that President George W. Bush ’68 spoke at the Yale Commencement, the Yale AIDS Network sent and faxed a letter to the president urging him to be more active in combatting the global AIDS crisis.

The letter calls for Bush to take new measures to increase the United States’ role in the international crusade to combat the AIDS crisis: It asks the president to commit $2.5 billion to this cause and pressure the United Nations to strengthen its current agenda for fighting AIDS.

More than 150 Yale deans, faculty and students signed the letter, which Yale President Richard Levin supported. This campaign continues the University’s recent actions to take a proactive role in fighting the AIDS epidemic and follows its recent efforts to make a Yale-invented AIDS drug available more cheaply in South Africa.

Next week, the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on AIDS will meet for the first time to outline the future of the worldwide response to the deadly disease. In light of this meeting, the Yale AIDS Network, composed of student and faculty activists, sent the letter to Bush in the hopes he would make the U.S. a stronger leader in the war on AIDS.

Members of the Yale AIDS Network said they were pleased that Bush was on campus the same weekend that they sent their letter. Almost every graduate of the Yale School of Medicine and the School of Nursing wore a red ribbon symbolizing their concern about AIDS. Several medical students held a huge banner at Monday’s Commencement that read, “Combat Global AIDS, Make Yale Proud.”

“It was fortuitous that Bush was here,” AIDS Network spokesperson Eric Poolman MED ’04 said. “The [wearers of] red ribbons showed no matter their personal feelings about Bush, they believe he should increase his commitment to fighting global AIDS.”

The Yale AIDS Network was formed this spring as a collaborative effort of faculty and students concerned with the AIDS epidemic and dissatisfied with the Bush administration’s unimpressive actions regarding it to date.

The group came together in the wake of Yale’s negotiations with pharmaceutical giant Bristol-Myers Squibb to relax the patent on the antiretroviral drug d4T in South Africa. Yale and Bristol-Myers are now making d4T more affordable by allowing other companies to produce generic versions of the drug, which was developed by Yale pharmacologist William Prusoff.

Recently, United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan called for $7 billion to $10 billion annually for a Global Fund for HIV/AIDS. The U.S. has tentatively committed to contribute $200 million to the fund. The Yale AIDS Network has asked Bush to increase that figure to $2.5 billion, aligning it with the U.S.’s share of the world’s combined gross national products.

Medical school Dean David Kessler, school of epidemiology dean Michael Merson, Law School Dean Anthony Kronman and Nursing School Dean Catherine Gillis signed the letter, along many other important Yale faculty members. Levin received a copy of the letter and e-mailed a response saying he “supported” the initiative but that it is not his policy to sign letters of this sort.

Director of the Yale Center for International and Area Studies Gustav Ranis said he believes Bush’s leadership in the AIDS crisis has not been adequate.

“The U.S. has decided to only put up $200 million. That is much too little,” said Ranis, who signed the letter. “We’re giving wealthy a huge tax deduction when should be helping the poorest people.”

While many faculty members signed the letter, some are not hopeful it will have any impact.

“One-hundred signatures of Yale professors doesn’t amount to a hill of beans,” said Professor James Scott, one of the letter signatories.

But Poolman said he is “hopeful” the Yale AIDS Network’s efforts will encourage Bush and the other letter recipients, including Secretary of State Colin Powell and Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson, to respond to the requests put forth by the Yale faculty and students.

Architecture graduate Chris Pizzi wears a red ribbon as he stands to accept his degree.
LISA TANNENBAUM
Architecture graduate Chris Pizzi wears a red ribbon as he stands to accept his degree.

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