Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Bubba Speaks!

I'm sitting up against a wall outside the hall where Bill Clinton just spoke, demonstrators to the right of me and to the left of me, huge throngs stepping over my legs. The conference organizers didn't do much to play up Clinton's talk -- you actually had to read the fine print in the program to find out when it was happening. Never fear, the big hall was packed, and rapt.

His words would have fallen harder on the world if he were President of the United States, of course, instead of just president of a foundation. But he's enormously respected around the world and as a matter of fact, I think most of the audience still thinks of him as PUSA.

For all his faults in his former job, he reminds of us what we are missing. His talk was substantive, erudite, passionate and, oh yeah, morally right. That the political culture in the United States has come to regard being intelligent and well informed as a disqualification to be president is one of the strangest, and most dangerous things that has happened to us.

"The dragon of AIDS does not ravage the world alone," he said. "It's partners are inequality of income, health care, and education." Silent demonstrators carrying signs on behalf of homeless people with HIV paraded in front of him at one point (which the ubiquitous security guards allowed them to do) and he connected with him. He used the occasion to say that poverty was not only the partner of AIDS in the poor countries where his foundation works, but in the United States as well, and he feared that economic hard times in the U.S. would mean better times for HIV.

The key to his address, in my view anyway, was that he tried to move beyond HIV exceptionalism. (A demonstration is marching by me right now, but I'm trying to stay on point.) It is not possible to combat HIV in the poor countries without building health care infrastructure generally, including self-sufficient decentralized services in rural regions, and integrated care management services. Right now, for example, funding for TB and AIDS comes through separate pipelines and people often end up with two doctors and two nurses. It is not possible to combat HIV without universal access to health care and affordable drugs. It is not possible to combat HIV without gender equality and an end to gender violence, adequate housing, food and access to education for all the world.

Clinton wasn't just reading a speech, he was speaking from the heart. I don't know what will happen in November, but I do know this: John McCain will never give such a speech, or even care about these matters.

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