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Bush signs AIDS initiative targeting Africa, Caribbean

WASHINGTON (BP)–President Bush signed into law May 27 an emergency global AIDS initiative he proposed to Congress only four months before.

The new law authorizes $15 billion in U.S. aid during the next five years to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS in countries devastated by the disease in Africa and the Caribbean. In signing the measure at the White House, Bush called it the “largest, single, up-front commitment in history for an international public health initiative involving a specific disease.”

“Across Africa, this disease is filling graveyards and creating orphans and leaving millions in a desperate fight for their own lives,” said the president, who announced the AIDS initiative during his January State of the Union speech. “They will not fight alone, because they will have the help and the friendship of the United States of America. America makes this commitment for a clear reason, directly rooted in our founding. We believe in the value and dignity of every human life.”

Bush’s action came only six days after the House of Representatives gave final approval to the legislation. The Senate approved the bill May 16.

The final version included two pro-family elements promoted by the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and other organizations. At least one-third of the funding is to go for abstinence-based programs. In addition, it includes a conscience clause protecting faith-based groups from being required to distribute condoms in order to receive aid.

ERLC President Richard Land said those measures in the legislation will help support “programs that work and don’t violate pro-family and religious sensitivities.”

The initiative will focus on 12 African and two Caribbean countries, Bush said. The program will provide HIV testing, fund abstinence education in schools, establish a network to deliver drugs, train healthcare workers and care for people living with AIDS, as well as AIDS orphans, he said.

The program has the potential to prevent 7 million new HIV infections and to provide care for 10 million HIV patients and AIDS orphans in the next decade, the president said.

Bush said he plans to nominate a global AIDS coordinator soon to direct the initiative.

Congress still must appropriate funds for the program.

Nearly 30 million people in sub-Saharan Africa — including 3 million under the age of 15 — are HIV-positive or have AIDS out of a total of 42 million cases worldwide, according to UNAIDS, the United Nations joint program on the disease. Last year, 3.5 million new cases were reported and 2.4 million people died of the disease in sub-Saharan Africa, UNAIDS reported.

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