For the first time, a global health crisis has been dubbed a threat to U.S. national security. The Clinton administration made this determination vis-à-vis HIV/AIDS on the basis of U.S. intelligence reports that the staggering levels of mortality and new infections—already the case in Sub-Saharan Africa and likely to become in Asia and eastern Europe shortly—will "challenge democratic development and transitions and possibly contribute to humanitarian emergencies and military conflicts to which the United States may need to respond." Along the same lines, and at the urging of U.S. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, the United Nations (UN) Security Council devoted its first meeting of 2000 to this topic, the first time a health issue has been the focal point. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has dubbed HIV/AIDS Africa's paramount human security issue in recognition of the fact that while Africa comprises 10% of the world's population, it contributes 80% of the worldwide deaths attributable to AIDS; life expectancy in southern Africa is expected to drop to 45 by 2015, down from 59 currently.

The Clinton administration has established an interagency task force to formulate an expanded and more concerted policy response to combating the disease internationally. One outgrowth was the president's executive order in April to encourage greater access to life-saving drugs for developing countries by relaxing the U.S. position protecting pharmaceutical companies' patent rights. At virtually the same time, five of the world's largest drug companies announced their decisions to drastically reduce the price of AIDS drugs for sufferers of the disease in Africa and poor countries elsewhere.

In Congress, meanwhile, the House overwhelmingly passed legislation on May 15 to create a World Bank-run trust fund to which private organizations and world governments would contribute for the purpose of education, prevention, treatment and vaccine-development programs to fight the disease. The bill, which is supported by the Clinton administration, authorizes a U.S. contribution of up to $100 million annually through FY 2005, with the aim of leveraging $1 billion a year from international donors. No corresponding legislation has yet been filed in the Senate.