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Aid for HIV/AIDS Crisis in Africa

A strong majority supports US aid to address the problem of HIV/AIDS in Africa. An overwhelming majority considers the crisis quite serious and believes that it will affect Americans, though the public is divided on whether it threatens US national security. About half of the public feels the US should do more than it has to help, but strong majorities think other actors such as the Africans, pharmaceutical companies and the UN should do more. A majority feels the US should get involved in the problem of AIDS orphans.

Support for addressing the problem of HIV/AIDS in Africa has consistently been high. In a July 2004 poll, Associated Press found that two-thirds (65%) of respondents favored a proposed US government program to spend $15 billion over five years to help fight HIV and AIDS in developing countries in Africa and elsewhere. [1]

An October 2000 survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that two-thirds (65%) favored "the US government spending money to help solve the problem of AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa." Just 29% opposed this idea. In a June 2000 poll by Kaiser and Harvard University, 63% favored such spending and, again, 29% were opposed. In a July 2002 Kaiser/Harvard/Washington Post poll, just 30% said the US was spending too much money on "on foreign aid to deal with the problem of HIV/AIDS in developing countries such as those in Africa, Asia, and Latin America." [2]

Also in the June 2000 survey, a slim majority (51%) favored the US " reducing the amount of money African countries owe to the United States, so they can use the money to deal with the problem of AIDS" (40% disagreed). [3]

In addition, it appears that Americans are not simply wishing to redirect funds within the existing aid for Africa budget. In a January 2000 Newsweek survey, 48% favored and 43% opposed "spending more money generally on Africa, in addition to funds specifically for AIDS." [4]

Support for an initiative championed by President Bush to help reduce transmission of HIV from pregnant mothers to their babies is even higher. In a June 2002 Kaiser/Washington Post/Harvard study, 71% favored "the federal government spending $500 million over three years in Africa and elsewhere in the world on programs to help prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS from mothers to infants." Twenty-one percent opposed the idea. When told that President Bush was proposing the idea, support was 74%, with 19% opposed. [4a]

In July 2002, Kaiser/Harvard asked respondents to set "the most important priority for US spending on health care in Africa." HIV/AIDS topped the list (25%), followed closely by clean water supplies (22%) and dealing with the effects of hunger (21%). [4b]

When asked to rate various African health care issues as a high, moderate, low or not a priority, HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment ranked second only to access to clean water, and was given the same priority as dealing with problems related to hunger: [4c]

  • Insuring that people have access to clean water - 73%
  • High priority HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment - 59%
  • Dealing with problems caused by hunger - 59%
  • Dealing with diseases like malaria and tuberculosis - 48%
  • Providing family planning and population control - 44%

In June and again in October 2000 Kaiser/Harvard studies asked about program priorities for US aid spending to combat HIV/AIDS in Africa. In each case, strong to slim majorities supported each proposed expenditure. These included "spending money on AIDS prevention and education" (77% in October, 76% in June), "AIDS treatment and care ... including making AIDS medications more widely available" (75% and 72%), and "reducing the amount of money [African] countries owe to the United States" (65% and 51%) [5]. Asked to choose between the three, spending on prevention and education received the most support, with a plurality (44%) choosing it in October and a slim majority (52%) choosing it in June. [6]

Another form of aid would be to allow African countries to produce generic alternatives to AIDS drugs, which are primarily produced by US pharmaceutical companies. Although this is legal under an international legal norm called compulsory licensing, which can be invoked in the event of a public health emergency, the US is actively working to discourage African countries from doing so. In January 2002 PIPA/Knowledge Networks poll, just 11% felt that the US government should "try to stop poor countries from producing generic AIDS drugs" while an overwhelming majority (86%) said the it should "not get involved." [6a]

Candidates who favor aid to Africa to fight HIV are not likely to suffer at the ballot box and may even get some slight advantage. An August 2000 Kaiser/Harvard poll asked respondents to assume a "candidate for a national political office was in favor of a major increase in US (United States) aid to African countries to help them fight the spread of HIV" and asked if that would make them more or less likely to vote for such a candidate. Just 13% said they would be less likely to vote for the candidate, 29% said they would be more likely to, and a majority (51%) said it would make no difference either way. [7] Americans have become increasingly optimistic that spending more money to fight AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa will pay off, though a significant minority is still doubtful. A May 2004 Kaiser Family Foundation poll asked, “Do you think that spending more money on HIV/AIDS prevention in Africa will lead to meaningful progress, or that spending more money won’t make much difference? A majority, 55%, said that spending more money will lead to progress, while 33% said such spending won’t make much difference. [8]

This is a higher level of optimism than was found in the July 2002 Kaiser/Harvard/Washington Post study, when only 41% said that more spending "will lead to meaningful progress" and 48% said it "won't make much difference" In 2000, Kaiser polls in October and June found 52% and 50%, respectively, saying increased aid would lead to meaningful progress on HIV/AIDS, while 40% in each poll said more spending wouldn’t make much difference. [9]

Aware of Seriousness of Problem

Strong majorities of Americans view the problem of AIDS in Africa as quite serious. Asked in a May 2004 Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation poll how serious the problem is, 83% of respondents chose “very serious,” while 10% called it “somewhat serious” and only 2% said it is “not too serious” or “not at all serious.” [10]

Americans also assume that the problem is likely to get worse. When asked in the May 2004 Kaiser Foundation poll whether “Africans have put the worst of the problem behind them or do you think the worst is yet to come?” 62% said they believe the worst is yet to come. Only 16% said they believe the worst is behind them. [11]

The public shows a strong knowledge of the severity of the problem in Africa compared to other regions, with large majorities correctly identifying Africa as the region worst affected by HIV/AIDS. Asked in a March-May 2004 Kaiser Foundation poll which region of the world is “hardest hit” by AIDS in terms of the largest share of the population being affected, 83% said Africa, followed by 8% who said the United States. [12]

In the July 2002 Kaiser/Washington Post/Harvard study, 78% were able to name Africa as the part of the world with the "largest number of people with HIV/AIDS," up from 70% in a July 2000 Kaiser/Harvard poll. [13] In an August 2000 study by the same groups, a plurality (42%) correctly estimated that one-half of teenagers in the hardest hit African countries are expected to eventually die from AIDS. [14]

Polls also indicate that the American public is fairly well exposed to information about AIDS in Africa. The Kaiser Foundation asked in its March-May 2004 poll: “During the last year, how much, if anything, have you personally seen, heard, or read about the problem of AIDS in Africa? Seventy-one percent had heard about the problem (51% said they heard “a lot,” while 20% said they heard “some”). Only 12% said they had heard “nothing” about the problem. [15]

Americans also perceive that the epidemic has the potential to impact the US. In a September 1999 Greenberg Quinlan survey, an overwhelming 83% of respondents said they believed that "the AIDS epidemic in Africa will affect people in the United States." [16]

When the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations in June 2002 offered "a list of possible threats to the vital interest of the United States in the next ten years," a very strong 68% rated "AIDS, the Ebola virus, and other potential epidemics" as a critical threat (29% said it was "important but not critical," 29% while only 3% said it was "not important"). However, when asked whether "the AIDS epidemic in Africa is a threat to the national security of the United States," the response was divided. In the June 2000 Kaiser/Harvard study, 45% agreed that it was, but 44% disagreed. [17] This divided response is most likely due to the confusing use of the phrase "national security," which has a military, not a medical, meaning to most Americans.

US Not Doing Enough, But Others Should Do More

A plurality is dissatisfied with how the US is handling the AIDS epidemic. In several PIPA-KN surveys taken in late 2002 and early 2003, respondents were asked to rate on a 0 to 10 scale--with 0 being very poorly and 10 being very well--"how well the US government is dealing with … the world AIDS epidemic." In each case, about 4 in 10 rated it negatively (0-4), while about one-third rated it positively (6-10); 20-25% gave it a neutral rating of 5. The net rating (percentage giving positive ratings minus percentage giving negative ratings) ranged from -6% to -8% and the mean response ranged from 4.63 to 4.71 [18]

A plurality feels the US should do more on the issue. An October 2000 Kaiser poll and a June 2000 Kaiser/Harvard survey asked whether the US government should be "doing more to help solve the problem of AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa." In October 2000, 40% thought the US should do more and just 13% felt the US should do less. One-third (33%) thought the US was "doing the right amount." In June 2000, 46% said the US should do more, 11% said it should do less, and 28% said it was doing the right amount. [19] In a January 2000 Newsweek survey, 50% believed the US was not doing enough "to help solve the problem of AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa." Just one-third (33%) felt the US was doing enough. [20]

However, solid majorities feel that other actors have not done what they should and should do more to address the crisis. In the Newsweek poll mentioned above, majorities felt the "United Nations" (57%), "African men and women themselves" (63%), and the "governments of African countries affected" (72%) were not doing enough. Likewise, in the June 2000 Kaiser/Harvard study, solid majorities felt that every other group mentioned should be doing more, including the "United Nations" (57%), "pharmaceutical companies" (63%), "local community-based organizations" in affected countries (66%), "governments of African countries affected" (77%), and "African men and women themselves" (78%). [see footnotes for full data]

AIDS Orphans

When it comes to the problem of AIDS orphans in Africa, a majority feels the US should get involved, but only a plurality favors specific proposals in this area. In the January 2000 Newsweek poll, 59% said the US should "get involved in dealing with the problem of African AIDS orphans." [21] However, in the same poll, only about half favored specific proposals, such as "changing immigration laws to allow more of them to come to this country so they can be adopted or cared for by private agencies" (50%) or "spending more tax dollars to help care for African AIDS orphans" (46%). [22]

As with the problem of HIV/AIDS in general, Americans think that others ought to take the lead. When given a list of potential entities that could be "mainly responsible" for helping these orphans, just 4% chose the United States. A plurality chose "African countries working together" (34%) and sizeable percentages chose "international charitable organizations" (25%) and the United Nations (21%). [23]



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Recent Data Updates
Africa - August 2008 (PDF)