The U.S. House of Representatives has passed by voice vote a $1.3 billion spending package to support the global fight against AIDS.

Republican Congressman Henry Hyde of Illinois, Chairman of the International Relations Committee, is cosponsor of the bill. "The United States has an opportunity and a responsibility to lead the world in confronting one of the most compelling humanitarian and moral challenges facing us today," he said. "I speak of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, a crisis unparalleled in modern times, and one that threatens both the entire world, embracing developed and developing countries alike."

Congressman Hyde cited statistics estimating that 22 million people have died from AIDS worldwide, and said the pandemic is quickly spreading from sub-Saharan Africa to India, China and Russia.

The bill authorizes $750 million for an international AIDS trust fund, which the United Nations is organizing.

The legislation allows for $485 million in bilateral aid, largely through non-governmental organizations, for education, treatment and prevention programs. It also calls for $50 million for a pilot program to help developing countries obtain anti-aids drugs and therapies.

Another co-sponsor, Democrat Tom Lantos of California, suggested the proposed funding be viewed as a down payment. "I truly believe that our legislation lays the foundation for a long-term commitment by the United States to eradicate this devastating disease," he said.

But Congressman Jim Kolbe, a Republican from Arizona, says, while he supports the legislation in general, he is reluctant to back $750 million for a trust fund that has yet to be established. "I support this bill because we must continue to dedicate an increasing amount of resources to fight the global pandemic of HIV/AIDS," he explained. "But I do not want my support for the bill to be viewed as an endorsement of the $750 million level authorized for the proposed global fund, at least not at this time."

The Senate has yet to act on the AIDS spending package.