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$48B AIDS bill reaches president’s desk

- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 26, 2008

President Bush plans to sign legislation Wednesday that calls for roughly $48 billion over the next five years to fight AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis around the globe.

The House approved the massive bill Thursday night, 303-115, with 114 Republicans and one Democrat opposing the bill while 228 Democrats and 75 Republicans voting "yes."

Mr. Bush urged future presidents to support this effort, which began in 2003 when he and congressional leaders crafted a $15 billion, five-year plan called the President's Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief.

"The challenge for future presidents and future Congresses will be to continue this commitment, so that we can lift the shadow of malaria and HIV/AIDS and other diseases once and for all," he said in a speech Thursday.

Members of both parties agreed, lamenting that HIV/AIDS has turned 13 million children into orphans.

"The [legislation] is our compact with developing nations around the world," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat. "It says that America stands with them in this fight."

Over the past few years, the 2003 legislation provided HIV/AIDS treatment to nearly 1.5 million people and supporting care for nearly 6.7 million patients, including more than 2 million orphans and at-risk children, congressional leaders said.

The new legislation expands this effort, bulking up programs to make them sustainable in the long run. It strengthens HIV-related health care delivery systems, increases health work force capacities and builds stronger links between HIV/AIDS programs and nutrition/education programs.

Rep. Mike Pence, Indiana Republican, voted for the bill, calling the HIV situation a "crisis" that is "truly staggering." But he also noted that Congress must find a way to pay for it. He suggested that trimming "wasteful and bloated" programs from the federal budget would be "more than enough."

The World Health Organization estimates 33 million people were living with HIV at the end of 2007, and that 2.5 million people became newly infected and 2.1 million died of AIDS in that year.

New HIV-infections in sub-Saharan Africa showed a "significant reduction" since 2001, but the region still accounts for nearly 70 percent of the people living with HIV worldwide, according to the WHO.

The bill also boosts efforts to fight malaria and tuberculosis. Malaria, spread by mosquitoes, is preventable and curable. Yet a child dies of it every 30 seconds, mostly in Africa.

Tuberculosis takes root in the lungs and an estimated 1.6 million people died of it in 2005, most of them in Africa, according to the WHO.

WHO leaders have particularly warned about the need to fight dangerous, drug-resistant strains of TB.

The measure additionally lifts the travel ban for people infected with HIV, and changes the previous requirement that one-third of prevention funding go to abstinence-only programs.

Instead, the government must develop a "balanced" approach under which behavioral change programs, including abstinence, delay of sexual debut, and monogamy programs, would receive 50 percent of the funding devoted to preventing sexual transmission of HIV/AIDS, members of Congress said.