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Vietnam to Benefit from $15 Billion US AIDS Program - 2004-06-23

President Bush has added Vietnam to a $15 billion program to fight the spread of AIDS.

Vietnam becomes the 15th country in the president's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and the first nation outside Africa and the Caribbean.

Announcing his decision during a campaign stop at a church in the city of Philadelphia, President Bush said he is committed to leading the worldwide fight to end the pandemic.

"We believe that Vietnam deserves this special help," he said. "We are putting a history of bitterness behind us with Vietnam."

White House officials say when the president decided to expand the program outside Africa and the Caribbean, there were several countries considered for the additional funding, including India and Cambodia. But President Bush says they chose Vietnam because the additional funding could have the greatest impact.

"The nation has experienced a rapid rise in HIV infections, a rapid rise, especially among the young. And Vietnam is cooperative and wants help. In other words, they recognize they have a problem, which, by the way is an important part of battling the pandemic," the president said. "People have got to say, 'I have got a problem. Come and help us.' It is hard in certain countries when people say, 'We do not have a problem', in denial. In the meantime people are dying."

Vietnamese officials says more than 80,000 people in the country suffer from AIDS. The United Nations estimates about twice that number are infected with HIV, which is the virus that causes AIDS, and the rate of new cases is multiplying faster than in Russia or China.

Like the 14 countries already participating in the program, all of the assistance to Vietnam will be funneled through international groups providing AIDS services.

During his stop in Philadelphia, President Bush also announced $20 million in new funding to deliver AIDS drugs within the United States. It is part of a campaign to stress what is termed his compassionate conservative agenda in swing states that are key to his push for re-election in November.