President Bush has signed a bill committing $48 billion to the global fight against AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis. VOA's Michael Bowman reports from the White House, the bill vastly expands a U.S. program that already treats millions in Africa, Southeast Asia, and elsewhere.
Launched in 2003, the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, known as PEPFAR, is America's largest-ever global health initiative. The five-year, $15 billion program will soon expire, but already the Democratically-controlled Congress has renewed and expanded it, committing an unprecedented $48 billion to battle AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis.
President Bush, who has made U.S. outreach to Africa a cornerstone of his foreign policy, says the continuation of PEPFAR shows that America remains a compassionate nation.
"Just a few years ago, HIV/AIDS raged out of control. An entire continent was caught in the pandemic's merciless grip. In countries like Botswana, AIDS had cut the average life expectancy by 15 years. One newspaper wrote, 'the AIDS pandemic is destined to rival the Black Death of the Middle Ages as a global horror.' Well, today the outlook is really different. HIV/AIDS is still one of the world's greatest humanitarian challenges, no question about it. But it is a challenge we are meeting," he said.
The president was speaking in the East Room of the White House, moments before signing the bill.
Although HIV transmission rates have been reduced for infants of HIV-positive mothers, thousands of people around the world are diagnosed with the HIV virus every day. Mr. Bush had a message for those who receive the devastating news.
"A positive diagnosis does not have to be a reason for shame. So do not let shame keep you from getting tested to treated. Your life is treasured by the people who love you. It is precious in the eyes of God. It matters to the people of the United States," he said.
United Nations AIDS officials say the global AIDS epidemic has stabilized, with fewer people dying as life-saving medication has become more available in developing nations ravaged by HIV. But they warn against any easing in the battle against AIDS, saying recent gains could easily be reversed.
The bill Mr. Bush signed into law constitutes a pledge to continue and expand the PEPFAR program. But Congress must still appropriate the actual funding, which is done on a year-by-year basis.