Global HIV/AIDS Treatment Funding at Risk Under Mitt Romney

As the tenor of the 2012 presidential election focuses on the economy and international affairs, many global health advocates are interested in Mitt Romney's commitment to funding U.S. global HIV/AIDS treatment initiatives.
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The latest Rasmussen poll, reports over 50 percent of likely Republican voters believe Mitt Romney will win the Republican nomination. As the tenor of the 2012 presidential election focuses on the economy and international affairs, many global health advocates are interested in Mitt Romney's commitment to funding U.S. global HIV/AIDS treatment initiatives.

At a recent town hall meeting in New Hampshire, several participants asked Romney about his support for global HIV/AIDS given his plans to drastically reduce federal discretionary spending. Romney responded:

At a time when we are borrowing money to pay for things... I'm very reluctant to borrow lots more money to be able to do wonderful things, if those things can be done by people making charitable contributions or by other countries that are wealthy...

A retreat on global AIDS by Romney would jeopardize the impressive results achieved thus far by the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) in treating HIV/AIDS in resource-limited settings. As of September 2010, PEPFAR has provided 3.2 million patients with life-saving antiretroviral treatment, prevented 600,000 babies from contracting HIV and supported the care of 11 million people, including 3.8 million vulnerable children. Despite these successes, PEPFAR's future is uncertain under Mitt Romney.

Indeed, Governor Romney and the majority of the American people are concerned about rising federal deficits. However, at less than 1 percent of the federal budget, reducing foreign aid lacks not only ethical legitimacy but also jeopardizes the U.S. economic recovery. Almost 50 percent of American exports go to the developing world. One third of manufacturing jobs in the U.S. depend on these exports. Slashing foreign aid would in essence kill American jobs. As Ashley Judd writes in The New York Times: "By investing in [global] health, American taxpayers are giving men and women [abroad] the chance to live more productive lives and participate in the global economy [as well as buy American products]."

I offer Mr. Romney a solution to finance global health and also simultaneously pursue deficit reduction. Romney could enact a financial speculation tax on the currency transactions market. The proceeds raised could fund global health initiatives such as PEPFAR and The Global Fund to Fight HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria.

Sixty countries including France, Germany, Japan, Spain and the United Kingdom are publicly supporting an international financial speculation tax on the $4 trillion-dollar currency transactions market. Last year, Congressman Pete Stark (D-CA) proposed "a small tax -- of five thousandths of one percent, or 0.005% -- on dollar transactions. Due to the extreme speculation that takes place, it would raise [at least] $28 billion a year and reduce currency speculation by 14 percent."

Some may argue, as fiscal conservatives surely will, a tax on banks is ill-advised at this time given the anemic state of our economy. However, David Stockman, director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Reagan, writes that "while supply-side catechism insists that lower taxes are a growth tonic, the theory also argues that if you want less of something, tax it more. The economy desperately needs less of our bloated, unproductive and increasingly parasitic banking system." A proposed financial speculation tax, a mere financial "pinprick" for international banks, would be an important stream of revenue to fund global development initiatives with the added benefit of reducing the reckless financial speculation practices of international banks.

Global health is the moral litmus test of our time. As former President George W. Bush wrote last year on World AIDS Day, "A thousand pressing issues come with each day. But there are only a few that you will want to talk about in retirement with your children. The continuing fight against global AIDS is something for which America will be remembered."

I encourage Mr. Romney to demonstrate leadership on global AIDS should he become the next President of the United States.

In 2005, Anand Reddi was a Fulbright Scholar assisting the Sinikithemba HIV/AIDS clinic at McCord Hospital in Durban, South Africa. Mr. Reddi is currently at the University of Colorado, School of Medicine.

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