The Senate on Friday confirmed on a voice vote former Eli Lilly CEO Randall Tobias to head the newly created Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator, which will manage the nation's five-year, $15 billion international AIDS initiative. Tobias was nominated by President Bush on July 2 to head the new office. As coordinator, Tobias will work under the secretary of state and will be able to distribute funds directly to nongovernmental organizations and transfer funds between government agencies. The position carries the rank of ambassador.
Global Health Council president Nils Daulaire called Tobias's appointment a "critical juncture in the world's efforts to address the global AIDS pandemic. Working together with the AIDS community and those committed to improving health around the world, Randall Tobias now holds the key role in achieving the monumental task outlined by President Bush in his State of the Union address. Only together can we develop and implement effective programs to deliver on the president's promise." Tobias's confirmation also was lauded by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation and the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation.
Tobias's nomination had been opposed by some AIDS activists, who worried that his ties to the pharmaceutical industry could serve as a conflict of interest and that he might use his influence to purchase more expensive anti-HIV drugs to help boost the profits at U.S. drug companies. Tobias owns stock in several drug companies and serves on the board of directors for Eli Lilly. In confirmation hearings with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Tobias said he would step down from his board position and sell his stock in every drug company except Eli Lilly, which does not make any anti-HIV medications. He also said his experience in the pharmaceutical industry would help him to negotiate cheaper prices on anti-HIV drugs for developing countries.