President Bush has named a former pharmaceutical company executive to coordinate his 15-billion dollar program to battle AIDS in Africa and the Caribbean. The announcement came just days before the start of the president's trip to five African countries.

Mr. Bush says the new AIDS initiative is of vital importance. He says millions of lives are at stake.

He says, "When I visit Africa I will reaffirm our nation's commitment to helping Africans fight this disease. America makes this commitment for a clear reason, directly rooted at our founding: we believe in the value and dignity of every human life. We're putting that belief into practice."

The president spoke at a White House ceremony where he announced that former pharmaceutical company executive, Randall Tobias, will lead the program. Mr. Bush said he will have a mandate to get the program up and running as soon as possible.

He says, "He will coordinate all of our international H-I-V/AIDS activities for all of our government departments and agencies. He will oversee all resources of this program. And he will work with the faith-based and community groups to get the job done."

Randall Tobias once headed Eli Lilly and Company, and some AIDS activists wonder if his appointment amounts to a conflict of interest.

In brief remarks at the White House, Mr. Tobias focused solely on the task ahead. He told the president that if confirmed by Congress he will approach the job with optimism and enthusiasm.

He says, "I look forward to working with you and those in your administration, with the Congress, and with the many non-governmental faith-based and community organizations who are already so engaged in doing so much. And I look forward to listening to and learning from the leaders and the people of the nations who are most impacted by this extraordinary crisis -- for, in the end, they are what this is all about."

The president's emergency initiative to fight AIDS calls for 15-billion dollar commitment over five years to fight AIDS in twelve African and two Caribbean nations.

There is criticism of the nomination. According th Eustacia Smith of the group, Health Gap Coalition: ""40 million people with AIDS facing death without access to affordable treatment need an experienced public health expert to direct this program. Tobias will have tough questions to answer about his independence and about whether the Bush AIDS Plan will make efficient use of funds by maximizing purchases of affordable generic medicines. In this administration, there is no firewall between important public health policy decisions like this one, and the conflicting commercial interests of political appointees."