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Last Updated: Friday, 4 July, 2003, 14:46 GMT 15:46 UK
Bush Aids tsar picks up Africa gauntlet
George Bush and Randall Tobias
Mr Bush says his nominee is a fine businessman
Randall "Randy" Tobias has critics on both sides of the Aids debate.

But President George Bush insists his new Aids tsar is the best man there is, well placed to run his $15bn programme to combat the epidemic in the Caribbean, and, importantly, in Africa, home to nearly 70% of the world's HIV carriers.

He may not have much knowledge of the spread of Aids in developing countries, but he is able to draw on a raft of experience gained as the chief executive of a top US pharmaceutical company, his supporters argue.

However, it is exactly his proximity to the drugs industry and - as a major Republican Party donor - his closeness to President Bush, which has some Aids activists worried.

Drug ties

The principal point of contention among his detractors is an alleged conflict of interest for a man who was the chief executive of American drugs giant Eli Lilly and who is now to make decisions regarding which Aids drugs should be offered to Africa.

Mr Tobias was drafted into the pharmaceutical company in 1993. As a telecoms executive, he was a surprise choice, but he was quickly credited with turning the company around, displaying the kind of acumen which many believe will come in useful during his Aids assignment.

He went down well with working mothers, having been an aggressive advocate of work-life balance. His company's childcare policy won him the title of CEO of the year from Working Mother magazine in 1996.

We are concerned that Mr Tobias does not have a proven track record of supporting the effective strategies to combat Aids
Connie Mackey
Family Research Council
Such credentials are of little interest, however, to Aids campaigners, some of whom argue that his appointment shows less about President Bush's commitment to Aids, and more about his commitment to the drug industry.

"We are gravely concerned about his appointment, which represents a clear conflict of interests," says Paul Zeitz, head of Global Aids Alliance.

"He will be making US policy, procuring drugs, and our big fear is that he will block access to the cheapest, generic drugs, for the sake of the big pharmaceutical companies," he told BBC News Online.

In December, Washington blocked plans by the World Trade Organisation to allow developing countries to buy cheap drugs, saying such a deal would allow too many patents to be ignored.

Abstinence

But as left-wingers bemoan Mr Randall's proximity to industry, conservative groups fear he is not right-wing enough.

Although the majority of the $15bn promised will go to treatment programmes, a third of the money has been set aside for education.

Under the legislation approved by Mr Bush, these projects must promote abstinence rather than safer sex - a clause which family planning agencies have denounced as singularly unhelpful.

We are gravely concerned about his appointment, which represents a clear conflict of interests
Paul Zeitz
Global Aids Alliance
But the conservative lobby says they fear Mr Tobias is not wholly committed to its so-called "A-B-C" message - which promotes abstinence above every other method of disease control.

"We are concerned that Mr Tobias does not have a proven track record of supporting the effective strategies to combat Aids that are outlined in the legislation," says Connie Mackey of the right-wing Family Research Council.

"The White House must ensure that Mr Tobias follows the A-B-C model to combatting Aids."

No altruist

Some observers note that if Mr Tobias is upsetting both sides of the political divide, he may not be such a bad choice.

When Mr Tobias won the Working Mother's accolade, he admitted that he had implemented family-friendly policies as much out of self-interest as anything else.

"This is not something we do as an extra perk. The policies are predicated on what I genuinely believe is best for the company," he said at the time.

A man who concedes he is not an altruist perhaps fits in well with the Bush Aids programme, which analysts say is as much about protecting the US as it is a philanthropic gesture.

It is widely believed that an Aids epidemic in Africa which is left unchecked will ripple out and have an impact on Western economies before long, and that would be bad news for America.




SEE ALSO:
Bush signs $15bn Aids-fighting plan
28 May 03  |  Americas
Q&A: Aids in Africa
20 Feb 03  |  Health


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