“the x factor” (“The West Wing,” part 3)

The more-than-questionable claim [that the “distribution of AIDS cocktails would be complicated by Africans’ inability to tell time”] was first made by a suitably “unnamed Treasury Department official” who told the New York Times in April, 2001 that Africans lack the “concept of time” required to adhere to the demanding protocols associated with combination therapies.  Shortly thereafter, in testimony before the international relations committee of the House of Representatives and again in an interview, both in June 2001, Andrew Natsios, head of the U.S. Agency for International Development, made a case against substantially increased funding for anti-retroviral drug treatment in Africa, where “People do not know what watches and clocks are.  They do not use Western means for telling time.  They use the sun” (Donnelly, A 14).

The comments, paraphrases rather than citations of The West Wing, were themselves cited as well as paraphrased in media coverage of the debate and again by activists protesting the failure of U.S. policy to meet the demands of a global crisis.  All of this unfolded as the world marked the twentieth anniversary of the pandemic’s official inception.  In an editorial entitled “Stinginess on AIDS,” the New York Times found fault with the Bush administration’s pledge in 2001 of a mere $200 million to the newly-instituted global fund for AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria (which had set a worldwide goal of ten billion dollars), suggesting that

the real problem is that AIDS overseas is a low priority for politicians.  Many believe, or find it convenient to echo, arguments that the money would be wasted.  People are still saying that Africans cannot take AIDS medicine because they do not own watches.

The newest AIDS medications, however, are simple to take, with two pills at sunup and two at sundown, and pilot programs show that African patients are perfectly able to take medicine on time when a steady supply is available.  [New York Times, August 19, 2001]

Donnelly’s report concluded on a comparable note:  “The comments by Mr. Natsios and the unnamed Treasury official assume that using the AIDS cocktails effectively requires taking a dozen pills or more at various times of the day.  But health experts say recent advances now allow people to take one or two pills daily, each containing several anti-AIDS drugs.  This regimen, now being used in several small African trials, means there is no need to tell time”  (Donnelly, A14).

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