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AIDS and Development Discussed at White House Summit

In Washington Tuesday, the White House hosted a summit on international development. The White House says given the impact of the financial crisis around the world, it is even more important to pursue a joint development agenda, which includes lifting people out of poverty, increasing educational opportunities and fighting disease.

Among those also addressing the development summit was Ambassador Mark Dybul, the US Global AIDS Coordinator and head of the $50 million PEPFAR program, the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. Ambassador Dybul spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about his message.

"The principle message is that development has been a huge area of success for the American people over the last eight years under President Bush's leadership. But with strong bipartisan support it's changed the view of many people around the world of Americans and who we are. And it's literally lifted millions of people up and saved their lives," he says.

Ambassador Dybul says that success is based on a number of principles aside from a commitment of resources. "And those principles are reaching out in partnership to people around the world as friends and neighbors, insisting on achieving results for them, good governance. There's got to be good governance and good utilization of the resources. Economic development…is very important because, ultimately, as we now know well from the last couple of weeks, the world is tied together economically and politically. And so economic growth and development is essential for our own global economic security and our own political security," he says.

HIV/AIDS has hindered development in many countries.

"HIV/AIDS is actually somewhat unique in development when you talk about disease anyway. Most diseases kill young and old, whether it's cancer or heart disease. HIV/AIDS uniquely infects and kills 15- to 50-year-old people. That means it's knocking out a generation of the most productive and reproductive segment of society. Most people actually have a misperception that HIV is a disease of the very poor. It is not. It's actually a disease of people who have climbed the first couple of rungs on the socio-economic ladder," he says.

Ambassador Dybul says the disease targets parents, teachers, health care works and peacekeepers and has created some 15 million orphans, most of them in sub-Saharan Africa.

For example, he says, "Two-thirds of new teachers in Zambia were dying from HIV/AIDS. There's no hope for economic growth and development when two-thirds of your new teachers are dying."

As for the relationship between PEPFAR and development, Ambassador Dybul says, "In the hardest hit countries, unless we solve the HIV/AIDS problem, we cannot succeed as much as possible in development…. The President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief is the largest international health initiative for a single disease ever…. But it's part of a new era in development…. A shift that focuses on principles that utilizes resources in an effective way…. New thinking is needed because the old thinking wasn't working. We had a lot of resources committed and not always a lot to show for it."

There has been concern that international aid from the United States and other rich nations could be scaled back due to the economic crisis. Will the crisis affect PEPFAR funding? Ambassador Dybul says, "We hope not…. If we do not maintain an emphasis on global development, on ensuring a stable economic and political future for the world, that risks the United States. So development is not just a humanitarian exercise, it's a self-interested exercise and now is not the time to be looking inward. Now is the time to be looking outward to ensure that we have a long-term, stable economic and political future."