Get AfricaFocus Bulletin by e-mail!
Print this page
Note: This document is from the archive of the Africa Policy E-Journal, published
by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC) from 1995 to 2001 and by Africa Action
from 2001 to 2003. APIC was merged into Africa Action in 2001. Please note that many outdated links in this archived
document may not work.
USA: AID Chief Displays Racism, Ignorance
USA: AID Chief Displays Racism, Ignorance
Date distributed (ymd): 010608
Issue Areas: +US policy focus+
This posting contains a press release from Africa Action and a
letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell from Africa Action, the
Religious Action Network and the Health Gap Coalition, protesting
the racist remarks by USAID Adminstrator Andrew Natsios in an
interview with the Boston Globe yesterday. Natsios said
antiretroviral treatment for AIDS was not practical in Africa
because 'Africans don't know what Western time is' (see full quote
below). The posting also contains excerpts from comments from
Natsios on antiretroviral treatment made to reporters on the
Secretary of State's Africa trip last month, along with
corrections from Paul Davis of ACT UP Philadelphia.
For those who might want to send their comments or corrections to
Administrator Natsios directly, use the link:
or send a message to
For additional background see
Africa Action Press Release
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Ann-Louise Colgan, (202) 546-7961
Aisha Satterwhite, (212) 785-1024
Letter to Powell Protests Racism at USAID
Top Official's Remarks Suggest U.S. Opposes Saving Lives of
Africans living with HIV and AIDS
Friday, June 8 (Washington, DC/New York City) - Africa Action, the
Religious Action Network and the Health GAP Coalition today issued
the attached letter to US Secretary of State, Colin Powell
protesting the racist remarks of Andrew Natsios, Adminstrator of
the United States Agency for International Development, reported in
yesterday's Boston Globe. Natsios is opposing treatment and care
for 25 million African living with HIV and AIDS as too costly and
has used the false argument that the antiretroviral treatments
commonly used in rich countries to restore health and prolong life
are inappropriate for Africans.
Responding to Natsios' remarks arguing that Africans can't tell
time, Africa Action's President of the Board of Directors, Rev.
Dr. Wyatt Tee Walker, stated that, 'Such blatant racism is
becoming the defining feature of U.S. policy toward the AIDS
pandemic in Africa.' Walker served as Chief of Staff for the late
Dr. Martin Luther King. Salih Booker, Executive Director of the
organization, added that, 'The administration is unwilling to spend
appropriate amounts of money to help save African lives and has
now stooped to using ignorant and racist arguments to justify
This is the second time in the past two months that Africa Action
has condemned the racism that seems to be a central determinant of
US foreign policy as far as this administration's response to the
global AIDS pandemic is concerned. On April 30th, a similar letter
to Secretary of the Treasury, Paul O'Neill, requested that he
identify and publicly repudiate the unnamed senior official in the
Department of the Treasury who told the New York Times that
Africans lacked a requisite 'concept of time' necessary to benefit
from HIV drugs. 'Secretary O'Neill responded this week with an
insulting form letter that dismissed our concerns,' said Booker.
The letter to Powell calls for the dismissal of Natsios.
For more information visit our website:
To Contact the Health GAP Coalition: (215) 731-1844
http://www.globaltreatmentaccess.org and http://www.healthgap.org
Letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell
June 8, 2001
Dear Secretary Powell,
We are writing to express our deep sense of outrage at the
shockingly racist comments made by your Administrator for the
U.S. Agency for International Development, Andrew Natsios. We
represent organizations and churches advocating equitable access
to treatment for people with HIV/AIDS around the world and
especially in Africa where - as you are well aware - the majority
of people presently living with HIV and AIDS reside.
According to an article in yesterday's Boston Globe, Mr. Natsios
said that Africans 'don't know what Western time is,' and that
'Many people in Africa have never seen a clock or a watch their
entire lives. And if you say, one o'clock in the afternoon, they
do not know what you are talking about.'
We are writing to demand that you repudiate this offensive
behavior. Someone such as Mr. Natsios, with such ignorant and
bigoted views does not belong in a policy-making position, and
should be fired. We request that you issue an official apology
and retraction on behalf of the State Department of which USAID
is a subordinate, and state publicly that the Department itself
does not endorse these racist views.
This is the second time in the past two months that we have been
forced to condemn the racism that seems to be a central
determinant of US foreign policy as far as this administration's
response to the global AIDS pandemic is concerned. On April 30th
we wrote a similar letter to Secretary of the Treasury, Paul
O'Neill, requesting that he identify and publicly repudiate the
unnamed senior official in the Department of the Treasury who
told the New York Times that Africans lacked a requisite 'concept
of time,' implying that they could not benefit from HIV drugs.
This week we received an insulting form letter response from
Secretary O'Neill that ignored the very issues we raised making
clear his insensitivity to the racism in his department. It has
been suggested that he may have been the unnamed senior official
himself quoted in the Times article of April 29th. We hope that
we will receive a more enlightened response to this letter.
US officials involved in shaping international AIDS policy should
have a working knowledge of African realities, as well as
treatment issues. If US officials lack such knowledge, we suggest
they visit any of the numerous clinics run by local health care
providers, governments, and NGOs, to learn for themselves about
the capacity that exists to deliver HIV/AIDS drugs in Africa. A
US policy that refuses to address the imperative of treatment
access - using such ignorance as an excuse - has deadly
The comments also reveal a lack of expertise on issues of HIV/AIDS
among US officials shaping international AIDS policy. New
combinations of anti-HIV drugs involve as few as six pills a day,
and already are being administered in settings in the developing
world including in Africa.
Arguments about the inability of people to adhere to anti-HIV
treatment regimes are often trotted out as an excuse for
inaction. However, adherence rates achieved in developing
countries are already comparable to those in the United States.
US policy must be based on facts and not bigoted stereotypes
More important than the views of any individual, however
misguided, are the policies of the administration. The nations of
the world seem finally ready to begin addressing the AIDS
pandemic in a way that is remotely proportionate to the scale of
the tragedy. It is time for the U.S. to announce its commitment
to increase its contribution to the Global Fund proposed by
United Nations Secretary General Kofi Anan to address HIV/AIDS,
as well as TB, malaria and other infectious diseases.
Given the moral imperative of providing life-saving treatments to
the more than 25 million HIV-positive people in Africa, the
administration and this fund must commit to do exactly what Mr.
Natsios is advocating against: invest in treatment - the
purchase and delivery of life-saving medicines - on a scale at
least proportionate to investments in prevention.
We respectfully request an immediate and direct public response to
Rev. Dr. Wyatt Tee Walker, President, Africa Action Board of
Directors, and Founder, Religious Action Network
Salih Booker, Executive Director, Africa Action
Sharonann Lynch, Health GAP Coalition
cc: President George W. Bush
The Honorable Paul O'Neill, Secretary of the Treasury
Walter H. Kansteiner III, Assistant Secretary of State for African
The Honorable Kofi Annan, Secretary General, United Nations
Dr. Peter Piot, Executive Director, UNAIDS
The Congressional Black Caucus
Zackie Achmat, Chairperson, Treatment Action Campaign
Quotes from Boston Globe, June 7, 2001
WASHINGTON - The Bush administration's top foreign aid official
said yesterday he wanted the new Global AIDS and Health Fund to
focus almost completely on prevention and include little if any
money for anti-retroviral drugs for those living with AIDS.
Natsios said the only money on drugs should be for anti-malarial
and TB medication for those with HIV/AIDS, as well as nevirapine,
which interrupts the transmission from mother-to-child.
Natsios, who spent a decade in aid work in Africa, said many
Africans ''don't know what Western time is. You have to take these
(AIDS) drugs a certain number of hours each day, or they don't
work. Many people in Africa have never seen a clock or a watch
their entire lives. And if you say, one o'clock in the afternoon,
they do not know what you are talking about. They know morning,
they know noon, they know evening, they know the darkness at
Natsios Comments during Africa Trip, with corrections
Health GAP Coalition, ACT UP Philadelphia
+1.215.474.6886 direct tel.; +1.215.474.4793 fax;
+1.215.731.1844 ACT UP
June 7, 2001
USAID head Andrew Natsios seems strongly inclined to advertise his
deep ignorance of AIDS treatment regimens. Interspersed within his
comments to reporters below (from Sec. Powell's Africa journey,
found on State Department web page), I inserted a few factual
corrections [in brackets].
USAID Administrator Natsios Press Remarks on HIV/AIDS in Africa
Andrew Natsios, Administrator,
United States Agency for International Development
Press Remarks En Route to South Africa with Secretary Powell
May 24, 2001
QUESTION: Andrew, can you explain why AID programs are focused so
much on prevention? Are you saying that to treat the problem is
just too hard and too big and too expensive?
MR. NATSIOS: Well if we can -- just go back to the United States.
Forty percent of the people who know that they have HIV/AIDS in
the United States are not in a treatment program. And that is not
because they cannot afford it. A friend of mine in Boston -- a
prominent talk show host [name off the record] -- and the rigor
you have to go through to take this medication....
[FACT: in spite of quiet resistance from the pharmaceutical
industry, US AIDS treatment guidelines were finally revised this
year to reflect the data-driven conclusions that the initiation of
therapy should be delayed _until_needed. We do not start therapy
immediately upon diagnosis. Most people living with HIV are not
taking medicine now because it is not clinically indicated. Drug
companies had supported the dangerous but profitable position of
immediate treatment initiation since 1996.]
..It's 17 to 25 pills a day...
[UNTRUE. People with HIV initiating treatment would now have take
from one to three pills in the morning, and one to three pills at
night, with no food restrictions or tight schedules. Some
combinations are working where all pills can be taken once at
midday. Additionally, the willingness of generic drug
manufacturers to combine products originating from different
patent holders into a single pill promises to further simplify
complexities of treatment regimens. DISCLOSURE: treatment for
opportunistic infections can increase pill burdens, although ARV
therapy has been shown to prevent many OIs.]
Every two hours....
[UNTRUE except for the very treatment experienced individual who
has spent years 'using up' treatment regimens that often began
with monotherapy or other suboptimal regimens.]
.. And you have to change the cocktail -- the mix of drugs --
every three or four months, or you can die from the toxicity of
[The premise and conclusions of this sentence is incorrect. People
with HIV change cocktails after some of the drugs they use have
started to fail. People have delayed initiation of therapy in part
due to toxicity, and the NIH and public entities are studying the
effectiveness of 'pulsing' ARV treatment in part due to toxicity.
What is inarguable is that access to medicine dramatically cuts
death and dying as well as rates of new infections.]
And it does not always work. There are some people who are
HIV-positive where the drugs simply will not keep you alive....
[TRUE. The unknown percentage of people with HIV who will
eventually fail treatment may be high. But the additional 15 years
of life we can afford to purchase right now allows time for the
newly promising vaccine research to bear fruit. And the outcomes
of untreated HIV is already known.]
.. So you have to have a very high level of infrastructure, higher
levels of education, levels of education, you have to have a cold
(inaudible) because some of the drugs have to be refrigerated....
[UNTRUE save for a single ARV that is rarely used in its
refrigeration-required formulation due to extreme side effects]
..Now if you apply that to Africa, and if we can't get forty
percent of the people who are HIV-positive to take the drugs in
the United States,...
[IGNORANCE DISPLAYED AGAIN: 40% of US people living with HIV are
not clinically indicated to be receiving ARV treatment.]
This material is distributed by Africa Action (incorporating the
Africa Policy Information Center, The Africa Fund, and the
American Committee on Africa). Africa Action's information
services provide accessible information and analysis in order to
promote U.S. and international policies toward Africa that advance
economic, political and social justice and the full spectrum of