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Bush Pressures US Congress to Boost AIDS Funding for Africa


President Bush is in Ghana where American money is helping slow the spread of HIV/AIDS. VOA White House Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, Mr. Bush is again pressing the Congress to double AIDS funding over the next five years to $30 billion.

Ghanaian President John Kufuor, speaking at a joint news conference with President Bush, says the prevalence of HIV continues to decline in Ghana, from 2.6 percent in 2006 to 2.2 percent of the population last year.

"I believe that is considerable, and perhaps some of the credit should be given to the extension of help in terms of resources including the antiretroviral drugs that we get from development partners like the United States of America," Mr. Kufuor said.

Fifty-thousand Africans were on antiretroviral drugs when President Bush took office. Now more than 1.2 million people receive those medicines.

Mr. Bush, speaking alongside Ghana's president, said that is a good start, but only a start. He wants U.S. lawmakers to reauthorize the President's Emergency Plan for Aids Relief, known as PEPFAR, at twice its current levels, raising the total to $30 billion over the next five years.

"One of the reasons that I was motivated to put forth a significant request to our Congress for a comprehensive program to deal with HIV/AIDS is that I felt it was unacceptable to stand by and watch a generation of folks be eradicated," Mr. Bush said.

PEPFAR supports training for peer educators in Ghana's military to slow new infection rates, especially among troops serving as African peacekeepers. It funds antiretroviral treatment at 37 military hospitals with training for laboratory technicians, virologists, pharmacists, and nurses.

The U.S. AIDS program also works with faith-based organizations, which the World Health Organization says provide as much as 70 percent of health care in sub-Saharan Africa.

Mark Dybul is the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator. He spoke in Tanzania during an earlier stop on the president's trip.

"They are the ones in the communities," Dybul said. "They are the ones with reach and credibility in their own communities. It's unfortunate that most people don't listen to government officials, like myself, when we tell them to act in a certain way. But they will listen to their leaders - particularly young people - and that involves faith leaders, community leaders, traditional leaders."

The president's calls for a doubling of AIDS funding has renewed the debate over PEPFAR's insistence that one-third of the 20 percent of funding for prevention must focus on abstinence.

"There are a bunch of divisive issues in the reauthorization about abstinence, reproductive health, needle exchange, and there are ongoing debates about whether PEPFAR is too much and too predominant and too exceptional and whether it's crowding out other worthy health and developmental initiatives - child survival, water, maternal health, family planning," said Stephen Morrison, co-director of the Africa program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a private policy research group in Washington..

Victor Barnes is the director of the HIV/AIDS program at the U.S. Corporate Council on Africa, a private group promoting trade and investment between the United States and Africa.

He says development groups in the field have adapted to PEPFAR politics.

"When you are dealing with sexually-active adults, abstinence-only portfolios are irrelevant," Barnes said. "They have a very important place, particularly with youth and particularly with delaying the onset of sexual activity, which is a critical intervention. But the reality is that it has to be in conjunction with behavior-change interventions and strategies for working with sexually-active adults as well as making condoms available, both male and female."

The president is doing long-distance lobbying on this Africa trip by urging American taxpayers to encourage Congress to double AIDS funding. He says Africans should not be left guessing whether or not the generosity of the American people will continue.


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