Bush aims to boost AIDS effort

He plans to ask Congress for $30 billion over 5 years for global programs

May 31, 2007|By James Gerstenzang | James Gerstenzang,LOS ANGELES TIMES

Washington -- President Bush said yesterday that he would ask Congress to increase U.S. support for global HIV/AIDS programs to $30 billion over five years from the current commitment of $15 billion.

The White House estimates the increased spending would treat 2.5 million people, prevent 12 million infections and provide additional care for 12 million people, among them 5 million orphans and other children.

In the program's first three years, through March, it helped pay for treatment of 1.1 million people in 15 countries, nearly all of them in Africa.

"This level of assistance is unprecedented, and the largest commitment by any nation to combat a single disease," Bush said of the initial five-year program. "This investment has yielded the best possible return: saved lives."

At a news conference in the White House Rose Garden, Bush said, "It's important that we continue the work we have begun."

The program, which is up for renewal next year, is one of the rare Bush initiatives that has won praise from a wide swath of the political spectrum.

Rep. Barbara Lee, a frequent critic of administration policies and one of the original sponsors of the plan in 2003, applauded the president for seeking expanded funding but said he needed to go further.

Lee, a California Democrat, said the government should also boost spending on malaria and tuberculosis, and on related efforts that are not part of the program but could bolster the fight against HIV/AIDS, including education, nutrition, water, food security and health care workers.

In a statement, she also took issue with the Bush program's emphasis on premarital sexual abstinence. A report by the Institute of Medicine said that such restrictions have "greatly limited" the work of specialists trying to carry out prevention programs among those at greatest risk.

Under the Bush program, 20 percent of the funding is dedicated to AIDS prevention, and a third of that goes to programs that promote abstinence until marriage.

Mark R. Dybul, the U.S. global AIDS coordinator, said in a conference call with reporters that the five-year program had also provided 1.3 billion condoms and that it had taken "a balanced approach."

He also asserted that the proposal would double spending on HIV/AIDS to $30 billion over five years even though the White House has only requested about $5 billion for the next fiscal year, which begins in October.

Asia Russell, director of international policy at Health GAP, an advocacy group funded by private donations and foundations that is fighting AIDS in developing countries, argued that the Bush request amounted to funding at the current level and would not keep pace with the AIDS epidemic.

She said Bush promised when he began the program that by 2008 it would treat 2 million people with AIDS, roughly one-third of those in urgent need, and had supported international promises for universal access to HIV treatment and prevention. Her organization estimates that such a course would need a $50 billion U.S. commitment over the next five years.

The president also said that first lady Laura Bush would visit with community leaders and participants in HIV/AIDS programs at the end of June in Zambia, Senegal, Mali and Mozambique.

The U.S.-funded program operates in Botswana, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Guyana, Haiti, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Vietnam and Zambia.

James Gerstenzang writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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