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Bush Says African HIV-AIDS Pandemic is Top Priority


President Bush says the United States is making a real difference in fighting HIV-AIDS in Africa. Mr. Bush delivered a message for Africa heard exclusively on the Voice of America.

In a two-and-a-half minute message, Mr. Bush said that stopping the AIDS pandemic ravaging much of sub-Saharan Africa remains a top priority of the United States. "America helped found the global fund to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, and we provide about a third of its funding. Two years ago I announced the Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, the largest health initiative in history to combat a single disease," he said.

The president said U.S. efforts are bearing fruit. "As of March of this year, the emergency plan had made treatment possible for more than 230,000 men, women and children in sub-Saharan Africa, far exceeding the goals we set in January, 2004. We are well on track to make our goal of supporting life-saving treatment for 2 million African adults and children by the end of 2008," he said.

President Bush also paid tribute to the leaders of Uganda and Botswana for crafting effective programs to reduce the HIV infection rate, and to treat those suffering from the virus.

But a critic of the administration's efforts is not impressed.

"What I heard was nothing new," said Bill Fletcher, who heads the Washington-based advocacy group Trans-Africa Forum. He said a gap exists between lofty goals set by President Bush and actual funds that have been spent to achieve those goals. "The administration certainly has made a very strong verbal commitment to the fight against HIV-AIDS, and has made some financial commitments, but not what had been promised. The follow-through is, at best, problematic."

Mr. Fletcher says, in addition to providing more financial resources, the United States should withdraw its objections to the manufacture and use of less-costly, generic anti-viral medications in Africa, and reconsider its prohibitions on condom distribution.

The Bush administration contends that in Uganda, where the HIV infection rate has been reduced by two-thirds in recent years, the government promotes sexual abstinence and fidelity over the distribution of condoms.

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