Retro Diva

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Oct. 25 2003 7:38 AM

Retro Diva

The Washington Post leads with a World Health Organization plan to expand HIV treatment in the developing world tenfold over the next two years; the story does not appear in the other papers. The New York Times leads with the $13 billion in grants and loans that the U.S. raised for Iraq reconstruction at a donors' conference. (The Post off-leads this story, and the Los Angeles Times puts it above the fold.) The LAT leads with state test results showing that California high schools are bad but getting better. (About two-thirds of the schools met state improvement requirements this year, twice the number that did last year. Yet the same tests that measured improvement revealed that only about a third of 10th- and 11th-graders were deemed "proficient" in English.)  

The WHO wants to make HIV retroviral drugs available to 3 million people in poor countries by the end of 2005. Currently, 300,000 people in these countries receive the drugs (half are Brazilians), and about 5 million need them. The organization's plan, which emphasizes efficiency at the expense of clinical precision, calls for combining three medicines in a single tablet. Nurses, community organizations, and family members, not just doctors, will distribute the drugs. The three-in-one pill will simplify the complicated multipill schedule that patent law requires in rich nations; this will reduce the partial compliance that launches resistant strains of the virus. However, these measures will preclude individual dosing adjustments for patients who experience unpleasant side effects.

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The Post's WHO story mentions the announcement by the William J. Clinton Foundation, reported by the papers yesterday, that it has secured agreements with several third-world pharmaceutical companies to provide retrovirals to the poor at costs lower than previously thought possible. The Post notes that pharmaceutical companies in the developed world oppose the three-in-one pill on patent grounds. It also reports that the Bush administration, which has pledged $15 billion to fight HIV in poor nations over the next five years, has yet to side with either the pro- or antipatent crowd. The article does not adequately explain what, if any, control the WHO has over international patent law, or who will pay for the plan.  

The Post notes that three-quarters of all the non-U.S. money pledged to Iraq came from just three sources: Japan, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund. France, Germany, and Russia offered no new money, which prompted Iraqi Governing Council head Ayad Alawi to say that he "[doesn't] think Iraqis are going to forget easily that, in our hour of need, those countries wanted to neglect Iraq." All three papers note that the $33 billion raised so far ($20 billion will come from U.S. taxpayers) falls short of the $55 billion that the World Bank says is necessary. But the NYT adds that "$33 billion for one country over four or five years dwarfs what other impoverished or war-torn countries have received in the modern history of aid projects."

All the papers report that three U.S. soldiers died Thursday evening and Friday morning in two separate attacks in Iraq.

The NYT runs a front-page feature on how ferry safety regulations—especially the one requiring two officers to be in the pilot house while docking—are routinely ignored. But the WP upstages the NYT on its own turf, revealing on page A02 that the assistant captain at the helm during last week's fatal crash on Staten Island was partly responsible for a similar docking crash in 1995, in which 16 people were injured.

The LAT fronts, and the Post reefers, the death of Madame Chiang Kai-Shek at 106. All the obits note that the Wellesley-educated Chiang was an American media darling in the 1930s, '40s, and '50s. Her older sister, Soong Ching-ling, married Sun Yat-sen, the architect of the 1911 Chinese revolution. Not to be outdone, she herself married one of Sun's generals, Chiang Kai-Shek, who led China (and pocketed U.S. aid) until the Communist victory in 1949. For the next two decades she, her husband, and her older brother lobbied Washington to help them retake the mainland. The NYT notes that U.S. Gen. Joseph Stilwell called her a "clever, brainy woman … direct, forceful, energetic. Loves power, eats up publicity and flattery, pretty weak on her history. Can turn on charm at will and knows it." (The Post puts her age at 105, but the NYT notes that this is a common error: Many Chinese, who believe people are one year old at birth, alter her birth year.)

The LAT and WP run an inside wire story that sounds like a modern-day Biblical fable: 50,000 Australian sheep are placed on an ark (OK, a "ship") and sent to the Middle East, where they are rejected at the market as too sickly (with "scabby mouth disease") to buy for meat. Rejected thus, they float on the vast sea for 90 days and nights, without a shepherd to guide them, until they finally are taken ashore in the land of Eritrea (after their ruined owners pay $700,000 to have the worthless ruminants slaughtered).

Note: The LAT retracts an assertion made in its Thursday edition that U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan twice rejected recommendations to evacuate his staff in Iraq before the bombing of its headquarters there. "Today's Papers" repeated that assertion on Thursday. It cited the NYT, which has not (yet) run this correction.

Michael Brus, a former Slate assistant editor, is a psychiatrist in private practice in New York City. He is on the clinical faculty of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

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