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Bush seeks more funds to battle HIV/AIDS pandemic

WASHINGTON (BP)–President Bush has asked Congress to increase the nation’s funding of HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment in poorer countries to $30 billion over the next five years, an amount that is double the initial commitment of $15 billion in 2003.

“This level of assistance is unprecedented, and the largest commitment by any nation to combat a single disease in human history,” Bush said May 30 from the White House Rose Garden.

Since 2003, the President’s Emergency Program for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) has supported treatment for 1.1 million people infected with HIV, Bush said, and the legislation that funded the emergency plan is set to expire in 2008.

Franklin Graham, president and CEO of the Samaritan’s Purse relief organization, applauded Bush’s “bold initiative” and said he was encouraged by the Bush administration leading the world in “attacking this pandemic.”

“In 2002, Samaritan’s Purse convened religious leaders from around the world to a conference in Washington called Prescription for Hope: International Christian Conference on HIV/AIDS,” Graham said in a statement. “We highlighted the problem of HIV/AIDS in an effort to stimulate action on the part of many people and organizations not previously engaged in this fight.

“I look forward to continued partnerships with communities, schools, churches and faith-based organizations and government to decrease the spread of HIV/AIDS and to give compassionate, Christ-like care to those already affected by it,” Graham added.

Bush said the $30 billion will be spent wisely through the establishment of partnership compacts with host nations, which will ensure that U.S. funds support programs with the greatest impact.

“America will work with governments, the private sector and faith- and community-based organizations around the world to meet measurable goals: to support treatment for nearly 2.5 million people, to prevent more than 12 million new infections and to support care for 12 million people, including more than 5 million orphans and vulnerable children,” the president said.

Bush also announced that first lady Laura Bush will travel to Africa in June to meet with community leaders and participants in HIV/AIDS programs in four countries.

“She and I share a passion,” the president said. “We believe strongly that to whom much is given, much is required. Much has been given to the United States of America. Therefore, I believe strongly — as does she — that much is required of us in helping solve this problem.”

Among the success stories of PEPFAR, Bush mentioned that victims of HIV/AIDS are “finding new reservoirs of strength and support.”

“Villages in Africa now talk of the Lazarus effect: dying communities being brought back to life, thanks to the compassion of the American people,” the president said. “This is the impact that has made our emergency plan and the modern-day Good Samaritans who are implementing it so effective. It’s important that we continue the work we have begun.”

The Washington Post reported that Bush’s proposal was met with bipartisan support in the District as international aid organizations, advocacy groups and members of Congress from both parties offered support.

By doubling the amount of money devoted to the cause, The Post said Bush’s plan would pay for AIDS treatment for 2.5 million people in 15 countries, as opposed to the 1.1 million who receive treatment under the current plan. Estimates indicate that 40 million people suffer from HIV/AIDS globally, the newspaper noted.

“With the energy and resources provided by PEPFAR and other programs, there has been impressive progress in the fight against HIV and AIDS worldwide, but the battle is far from won,” said Sen. Russ Feingold, D.-Wis., chair of the Foreign Relations Committee’s Africa subcommittee. “Right now, only a small percentage of those who need lifesaving drugs are receiving them, while millions more are contracting this preventable virus every year.”
Compiled by Erin Roach.

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