Former President Clinton Leaving His Mark in Fight Against AIDS

Since leaving office more than five years ago, former President Bill Clinton has made a lasting contribution to a cause he embraced late in his presidency: fighting AIDS in Africa and around the world, the New York Times reports.

Few public figures in America have spawned as much speculation about what motivates them than Clinton, who left office as one of the youngest former presidents in history. Recently, on his fourth visit to Rwanda, it was clear the efforts by his foundation had personal meaning. "Everyone was worried," said Richard Marlink, who headed Harvard University's AIDS Initiative. "Is this a campaign with photo ops and press releases or a long-term commitment?"

With a budget of $30 million raised from private donors, the William J. Clinton Foundation has undertaken projects in two dozen developing countries, providing funds to post nurses in rural clinics in Kenya, gathering experts to train hospital managers in Ethiopia, and buying drugs for thousands of sick children, among other things. The foundation also has negotiated steep cuts in the price of AIDS medicines through deals with drug companies that cover more than 400,000 patients in dozens of countries, and has taken up other causes, from childhood obesity to to global warming.

Ironically, for most of his presidency, Clinton's trade office fought to protect the patent rights of pharmaceutical companies against attempts by developing countries to make or import cheaper generic medicines. "There are two acts here," said Greg Behrman, author of The Invisible People: How the U.S. Has Slept Through the Global AIDS Pandemic, the Greatest Humanitarian Catastrophe of Our Time. "Clinton's post-presidential leadership has been extraordinary. As president, though, the record is clear. Clinton was not a leader on global AIDS, and the consequences have been devastating."

Since 2004, when a mere 20,000 children in the developing world were receiving drug treatment, while more than 500,000 a year were dying, Clinton has campaigned vigorously to bring attention to the problem of children with AIDS. "The reason I do this work I do is that I really care about politics and people and public policy," Clinton told the Times. "I'm 60 years old now, and I'm not running for anything, so I don't have to be polite anymore."

Celia Dugger. "Clinton Makes Up for Lost Time in Battling AIDS." New York Times 08/29/2006.