January 28, 2009
Late last week, while pro-life evangelicals and other conservatives were rightly watching the moves of the Obama administration regarding the so-called Mexico City policy, other events were unfolding at the State Department, where Ambassador Mark Dybul, head of PEPFAR, the much lauded program to fight HIV in Africa, was given one day to clean out his office.
Sorry, Dr. Mark, you did a great job, but apparently, not great enough to override the Democratic political hacks now calling the shots on HIV/AIDS policy. (These are the ones who now have a federal check book with a balance of about $48 billion of your money, folks.)
Back on Dec. 1, World AIDS Day, I talked with Ambassador Dybul in Washington. Of course, evangelicals were peppering him with questions about whether he would stay on under President Obama, who on World AIDS Day had nothing but positive things to say about PEPFAR's achievements.
Dybul admitted that his fate in Washington was in the hands of others. But he was not gloomy or angry. I have met dozens if not hundreds of medical professionals who are working across the world against the virus. Dr. Dybul, actually, is one of the most skilled public health physicians you could ever meet. He's on the global High Honor Roll in the global fight against HIV.
It is no mistake that under his watch more than 2 million people have access to life-sustaining drugs.
Here's what political columnist and former Bush speechwriter Mike Gerson had to say today in the Washington Post about Dr.Dybul:
While I worked at the White House -- from 2001 to 2006 -- I saw Dybul combine the ability to build bipartisan consensus for PEPFAR on Capitol Hill with exceptional compassion for the victims of a cruel and wasting sickness. It mattered little to the Bush administration that Dybul was openly gay or that he had contributed to Democratic candidates in the past. He was recognized as a great humanitarian physician -- a man of faith and conscience -- almost universally respected among legislators, AIDS activists, foreign leaders and health experts. Almost.
A few radical "reproductive rights" groups -- the fringe of a fringe -- accused Dybul of advocating "abstinence only" programs in AIDS prevention. It was always a lie. Dybul consistently supported comprehensive prevention efforts that include abstinence, faithfulness and condom use -- the approach that African governments themselves developed. In fact, Dybul was sometimes attacked from the right for defending a broad definition of AIDS prevention, including programs to address prostitution and transgenerational sex. Over the years, PEPFAR distributed 2.2 billion condoms -- hardly an "abstinence only" approach.
What happens next?
Even today, one evangelical leader expressed to me her fear that PEPFAR itself is going to be radically reshaped under the Obama administration. That probably means so long to faith-based abstinence and fidelity educational programs in Africa and elsewhere. These efforts were at the heart of the Uganda success story in which HIV/AIDS rates and deaths were dramatically reduced. Countless families were held together as a result.
This move sure feels like snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.