U.S. President George W. Bush has announced a major program for African and Caribbean countries hard hit by AIDS to reduce the transmission of the disease from infected mothers to their babies. The $500 million effort is targeted at more than a dozen of the most severely affected nations.
The president said action is crucial. He said young lives are at stake and something must and will be done. "Worldwide, close to 2,000 babies are infected with HIV every day during pregnancy, birth or through breast feeding. Most of those infected will die before their fifth birthday," Mr. Bush said.
He said new advances in treatment provide the ability to dramatically reduce the transmission rate. Mr. Bush said the key is to get these new drugs to the women and infants who need them. "Today, I announce that my administration plans to make $500 million available to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV. This new effort, which will be funded during the next 16 months will allow us to treat one million women annually and reduce mother-to-child transmission by forty percent within five years or less in target countries," Mr. Bush said.
Much of the $500 million will cover the cost of anti-AIDS medications that are administered before or shortly after birth. The remainder will be used largely to boost healthcare delivery systems, primarily through training and recruitment of personnel.
The president said this program is not a substitute for other international efforts to combat AIDS. He called it the essential next step. "This major commitment of my government to prevent mother-to-child transmission is the first of this scale by any government, anywhere," Mr. Bush said.
But he stressed the United States cannot do it alone, and others most help. "I call on other industrialized nations and international organizations to join this crucial effort to save children from disease and death," he said.
In its initial phase, the program will target 12 African countries - eight immediately with another four added late next year. Guyana and Haiti in the Caribbean will also get help, as will regional efforts through the Caribbean Epidemiological Center.
The announcement comes just one week before the annual meeting of the so-called Group of Eight, which includes the world's seven largest industrialized democracies and Russia. The grave problems facing Africa are expected to be a focus of that meeting, including the devastating impact AIDS has had on the continent.