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U.S. official fights back against AIDS policy criticism

U.S. official fights back against AIDS policy criticism

U.S. AIDS coordinator Randall Tobias on Wednesday urged his nation's detractors to end their bickering over condoms and drug patents and join hands with Washington in a global partnership to fight their common enemy: AIDS. Defending the Bush administration's policy against intense criticism, Tobias said the United States is spending nearly twice as much to fight AIDS globally as the rest of the world's donor governments combined. "At this point, perhaps the most critical mistake we can make is to allow this pandemic to divide us," Tobias said in a speech to the International AIDS Conference in Bangkok, Thailand. "We are striving toward the same goal, a world free of HIV/AIDS. When 8,000 lives are lost to AIDS every day, division is a luxury we cannot afford." The United States came under fire this week at the six-day conference over its AIDS policies, with activists, scientists, and governments finding fault with nearly every Washington policy on HIV. Its insistence on abstinence as a first line of defense against HIV has been ridiculed as unworkable by proponents of condoms. Tobias said while the United States is not against condoms, an abstinence campaign in Uganda shows that the contraceptives are not the only solution. "Abstinence works; being faithful works; condoms work. Each has its place," he said. "He's lying, people dying," hecklers chanted almost constantly during the speech, which was initially delayed a few minutes when protesters massed near the stage. Critics say U.S. AIDS money comes with strings attached--it goes to countries that support its abstinence-first policy. Also, the money currently can buy only brand-name drugs, usually American, shutting out cheaper generic medicines made by developing countries. Tobias said Washington insists on name-brand drugs because their quality has been tested by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which so far has endorsed only branded drugs. However, the agency has indicated it would accelerate any applications for generic drugs. "America will not have one health standard for her own citizens and a lower standard of 'good enough' for those suffering elsewhere," he said. (AP)

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