Congressional negotiators have agreed to add several hundred million dollars to U.S. spending for a multi-year battle against AIDS in Africa and other areas. Some members of Congress pushed for many months to increase the amount for the first year of a program originally proposed by President Bush and approved earlier this year by Congress.

The House and Senate passed legislation earlier this year setting up a $15 billion program to fight AIDS, a response to President Bush's proposal in his State of the Union Address last February. Under the president's original plan, $3 billion would go to AIDS prevention and treatment in 14 African and Caribbean countries over the next five years, nearly tripling the previous U.S. commitment. The program is also aimed at helping fight malaria and tuberculosis.

But although Congress approved a $3 billion a year spending level, the Bush administration requested only about two billion for 2004. Democrats in Congress accused the president, who traveled to Africa earlier this year, of failing to live up to his initial proposal.

Republicans defended the administration figure saying individual countries and the anti-AIDS effort, which includes the Global Fund for AIDS, could not absorb the full amount in the first year. Agreement by congressional negotiators to add about $400 million in spending for the AIDS-Malaria-Tuberculosis program, would bring the total for 2004 to about $2.4 billion. That may go some way toward satisfying critics of President Bush.

David Bryden, spokesman for the Washington-based Global AIDS Alliance, says the move to increase funding is welcome, but will leave many questioning why more money couldn't be provided "up front" in the first year of such a high priority program. "What is going to be happening on World AIDS Day in just two weeks is that people are really going to be focusing on how many people could we get under AIDS treatment? Because there are so few people that need it that are actually getting it," he says. "So, I really do think that shortfall that you cite really has life and death consequences."

It is hoped Congress will move this week before a scheduled adjournment, to approve the various spending bills that contain the AIDS funding for 2004.