Five years ago Scott Evertz headed the US delegation to UNGASS where 189 member countries signed the historic Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS. In the glacial bureaucracy of the UN, that declaration was fairly progressive. It committed governments to specific targets for AIDS treatment, embraced comprehensive HIV prevention efforts and spoke openly of condoms, gender equality and vulnerable populations. But today the world is only incrementally closer to universal access to treatment by 2010 -- one of the major goals to emerge from UNGASS in 2001. And the US and its unlikely family values allies in the Middle East are working behind the scenes of UNGASS +5 to roll back even those commitments.
According to Evertz and AIDS activists privy to draft declarations, Islamic countries and the US have diluted references to condoms, replaced "evidence-based" prevention measures with "evidence-informed" measures and struck references to vulnerable populations [men who have sex with men, IV drug users and commercial sex workers].
As the lead US negotiator at the original UNGASS, Evertz is speaking out. "Even in 2001 there were many sticky issues, one of which was that my government didn't want to talk about vulnerable populations, people at risk for HIV. So even then my government found a willing audience and receptive friend in some of the Islamic states that are on our terrorist list. I find that appalling, and we're doing it again," Evertz said at a press conference this morning.
Appointed by Bush as director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy in 2001, Evertz is no radical; he's not even a Democrat. A clean-cut, former President of the Wisconsin State Log Cabin Republicans, Evertz was recommended by then Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson with whom he had worked with on faith-based social services. But apparently, the Bush administration's emphasis on abstinence and fidelity has turned his stomach. When asked if U.S. AIDS policy has been hijacked by the far right, Evertz replied, "I'm not entirely sure, but they are certainly on the plane." "If the tax payers knew how ideology and politics are driving the U.S. response to AIDS, they'd be alarmed," Evertz added.
Now a private citizen, Evertz says he "appreciates not having to be an apologist for some of those [Bush administration] policies."