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Bush: AIDS goal reached early

WASHINGTON (BP)–The United States has achieved a goal ahead of schedule established by the Bush administration to provide treatment to 2 million HIV-infected people globally, the president said Dec. 1 on World AIDS Day.

“[W]hen we got started, there were 50,000 people getting antiretrovirals in all sub-Sahara Africa,” Bush told mega-church pastor Rick Warren during a special forum in Washington. “And we set a goal of 2 million by five years to get antiretrovirals…. [T]oday we’re able to announce that we’re over 2 million in less than five years….”

The president received an award from Warren for his efforts in leading the United States to combat HIV/AIDS around the world. Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in Southern California, presented the first International Medal of PEACE to Bush on the 20th anniversary of World AIDS Day.

“No world leader has ever done more for global health than President George W. Bush, and I think we need to recognize that, and I thank you for that,” Warren said at the Saddleback Civil Forum on Global Health.

Saddleback’s PEACE Plan initiative seeks to gather millions of Christians to (1) Promote reconciliation; (2) equip servant leaders; (3) assist the poor; (4) care for the sick; and (5) educate the next generation. The faith-based effort is conducted in cooperation with governments and business leaders.

The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which was announced by Bush in 2003, was a pledge of $15 billion over five years to fight the HIV/AIDS epidemic, especially in Africa. The largest international health initiative ever instituted by a country, PEPFAR set goals of treating 2 million HIV-infected people, preventing 7 million new infections and supporting care for 10 million people.

On World AIDS Day, the White House cited the following achievements in the effort, as of Sept. 30:

— Antiretroviral treatment for more than 2.1 million people globally, more than 2 million of that total in sub-Saharan Africa. (Antiretrovirals are drugs used to treat infection by HIV and other retroviruses.)

— Support care for more than 10.1 million people, including more than 4 million orphans and vulnerable children.

— Assistance that resulted in the births of almost 240,000 HIV-free babies whose infected mothers utilized programs that prevented them from passing on the virus.

Accountability in achieving measurable goals, along with authority and responsibility by local leaders and participation by faith-based organizations, were important parts of the PEPFAR approach, Bush said.

“[T]hey call the effect that’s taking place in Africa the ‘Lazarus effect’ — people given up for dead now realizing there is life,” Bush told Warren during a 47-minute interview the Southern Baptist pastor and his wife Kay conducted with the president and his wife Laura.

“[W]hat the American people have got to understand about this initiative is it’s in our national interest that we help save lives in Africa,” Bush said. “[I]t’s really good foreign policy. It’s good national security policy, too, because the truth of the matter is we are involved in an ideological conflict against [terrorists] who can only recruit when they find hopelessness. And there’s nothing more hopeless than to be an orphan, for example, whose parents died of HIV/AIDS, wondering whether or not there’s a future for them. So it’s in our national security interest to deal with hopelessness when we can find it. It’s obviously in our economic interest to have a vibrant, growing group of consumers.”

The president added: “But it’s in our moral interest…. We’re a better nation when we save lives.”
Compiled by Baptist Press Washington bureau chief Tom Strode.

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