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Bush Touts  AIDS Initiative - 2003-01-31


U.S. President George W. Bush is working to rally public support behind a proposed new program aimed at fighting the global AIDS crisis. He said the program could provide hope for millions of people around the world.

Surrounded by African and Caribbean ambassadors, President Bush appeared to be delivering a lesson in global responsibility to American voters, as he asks Congress to provide $15 billion for the five-year international AIDS initiative he outlined Tuesday.

"If you're worried about freedom, that's not just freedom for your neighbor in America," he said. "That's freedom for people around the globe, and today, on the continent of Africa, freedom means freedom from the fear of a deadly pandemic."

Mr. Bush says the United States needs to provide hope for the millions of people infected with HIV worldwide and the millions more AIDS orphans. Mr. Bush says he is determined to turn the tide against the virus.

His new plan would seek $9 billion over five years for treatment and prevention programs in 14 African and Caribbean countries hard hit by the pandemic. Another $1 billion would go to the Global Fund, an international agency that dispenses money to local AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis health projects. This money would supplement $5 billion already planned for international AIDS programs.

While international response to the plan has been generally favorable, some have criticized it for involving mostly bilateral assistance, and focusing on so few countries.

Columbia University economist Geoffrey Sachs, an advisor to the U.N. secretary-general, says the Bush proposal is only one-third of the amount necessary to fight AIDS. He also argues that more of it should be given to the Global Fund.

"Most global health professionals and AIDS specialists have come to the conclusion long ago that a pooled international effort, where countries make a coherent strategy, and then have that single strategy funded by a single international entity, is by far the most appropriate way to proceed," said Mr. Sachs.

Mr. Bush insists that the United States is committed to the Global Fund. He points out the new chairman of the Fund is U.S. Health Secretary Tommy Thompson. But the president says the United States would continue to build bilateral AIDS programs in more than 50 nations.

"That's the mission," stressed Mr. Bush. "Even though we're in 14 countries initially with this major focus, we understand there is suffering elsewhere, and we want to expand beyond, and we want to encourage others to join us as well."

Mr. Bush spoke on a day when the Global Fund announced its second round of grants from Geneva, nearly $900 million, 60 percent of it for AIDS programs, mostly in Africa.

But an official with the U.S. AIDS advocacy group "Results," Joanne Carter, notes the Fund has no money for the next series of grants in October, unless the United States and other countries pledge more money.

"The Global Fund is essentially bankrupt," she said. "This tragic bypassing of the Global Fund is even more inexplicable, as Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson has just assumed the position of the chair of the Global Fund."

Ms. Carter went on to say, there is strong support for the Fund in the U.S. Congress. Senators are preparing various measures to expand U.S. funding in 2004 from the $200 million requested by the White House to up to $2 billion.

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