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UN Special Envoy On HIV/AIDS Praises The Bush AIDS Plan - 2003-02-13

In the battle against HIV/AIDS, one of the biggest weapons is money. That’s why there has been so much positive reaction to President Bush’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, which was unveiled during his State of the Union address. It calls for 15 billion dollars – including 10 billion in new money – to be spent over the next five years. One of those praising the plan is Stephen Lewis, the Special UN Envoy for HIV/AIDS. But he also says with so many lives at stake, it would be better for the money to be spent sooner rather than later.

Stephen Lewis says on his recent trip to Africa, he heard something he had never heard before. Government officials – when talking about HIV/AIDS – actually saying they “were fighting off extinction.”

hE SAYS, "They have the sense of so many people dying and the infrastructures are so weakened that you wonder ten or fifteen years from now whether or not they will be viable states. And if they are not viable states – and if you have twenty, twenty-five, thirty million (AIDS) orphans wondering the landscape, rootless and angry, what happens to the security in the society if everything begins to break down."

The UN Special Envoy on HIV/AIDS says that is why President Bush’s plan is so significant.

"In terms of its impact, potential impact on Africa, it is very, very great indeed," he says. "And it signifies quite a dramatic departure from what has gone before because up until now the United States along with most other wealthy nations has done very little in response to the pandemic in Africa."

In fact, shortly before the plan was announced in January, Mr. Lewis accused wealthy nations of committing – what he called - “mass murder by complacency.”

He says, "I’ve often thought to myself that if you’ve got millions of people who are destined for death – and you have medicines that can prolong their lives for many years – and the cost of those medicines have dropped to a level where if the rich nations contributed money they could be afforded – then I don’t know what the devil you call it if you allow the people simply to die the way we have been allowing Africans to die. And I’m beyond the point of patience any longer of mincing words about the situation."

He says the situation changes significantly with President Bush’s announcement. But he says the key is to get the money out quickly. And that’s where he finds fault with Mr. Bush’s proposal.

The Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief aims to prevent seven million new infections, treat two million HIV infected people, and care for ten million HIV-infected people and AIDS orphans.

"We’re losing those lives at the rate of two million a year," he says. "If they require treatment now, their lives could be prolonged eight, ten, twelve years. So if somehow that money could be available immediately, rather than a year or eighteen months from now, the chances of saving significant numbers of lives would be real."

Mr. Lewis says he would like to see the US Congress make an emergency appropriation that would release a large sum of the AIDS money this fiscal year.

The fifteen billion dollar, five year Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief would only give a small portion of the money to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. The UN envoy says that’s the second thing he would like to see changed.

He says, "Only ten percent of the new money is going for the Global Fund for AIDS. It is, I think, absolutely the best instrument we have internationally. It’s already distributed some two-point-one billion dollars over the next several years. It will have proposals coming to it in 2003 and 2004 of between six and seven billion dollars. But President Bush has said only 200 million dollars a year will go from the United States to the Global Fund. That’s a terrible blow to the Global Fund. They’re going to be scrambling to be functioning. They’re broke."

He says he hopes the president and congress reconsider that provision as well. Stephen Lewis was a guest on VOA’s Press Conference USA.