In a rare display of bipartisanship in an otherwise bitterly divided Washington, President Obama and former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton joined forces Thursday to push for more support for fighting HIV/AIDS in the U.S. and around the world.
"Make no mistake. We are going to win this fight, but it's not over," Mr. Obama said. " ... Not for the 1.2 million Americans who are living with HIV right now."
The president commemorated World AIDS Day by announcing $50 million of new funding for clinics and drug assistance programs and pledged to increase access to antiretrovirals in the hardest-hit countries by the end of 2013. He also set a new goal of helping 6 million people around the world gain access to the antiretroviral drugs by the end of 2013, up from the original target of 2 million.
"The rate of new infections may be going down elsewhere, but it's not going down here in America," Mr. Obama told a crowd gathered at George Washington University for an event that included remarks from Mr. Bush, Mr. Clinton and U2 frontman Bono. "There are communities in this country being devastated still by this disease."
Mr. Obama also called on Congress to continue working to fight AIDS.
"At a time when so much in Washington divides us, the fight against this disease has united us across parties and across presidents," he said. "And it shows that we can do big things when Republicans and Democrats put their common humanity before politics."
Mr. Obama specifically singled out Mr. Bush for his leadership on AIDS eradication, noting that his record on fighting the pandemic will be one of the former president's greatest accomplishments.
"That program — more ambitious than even leading advocates thought was possible at the time — has saved thousands and thousands and thousands of lives, spurred international action, and laid the foundation for a comprehensive global plan that will impact the lives of millions," Mr. Obama said. "And we are proud that we have the opportunity to carry that work forward."
The president urged other wealthy nations to fulfill their financial pledges to the global fund to fight HIV and AIDS, pointedly calling out China and "other major economies."
"Countries that haven't made a pledge need to do so," he said. "That includes China and other major economies that are now able to step up as major donors."
Appearing via satellite from Tanzania, sitting alongside that country's president, Mr. Bush said the promise of progress against the disease has never been more vivid or more fragile and said World AIDS Day is a perfect opportunity "to renew our commitment to making sure that we all use our God-given talents to save lives."
"During moments of economic hardship, there is a temptation for Americans to disengage from the world," Mr. Bush wrote in an editorial that appeared in Thursday's Wall Street Journal. "But isolationism is always shortsighted and too often leads to greater hardship and despair in places that need our help."
The majority of the new funding — $35 million — will go to state programs that help people living with HIV and AIDS gain access to medicine. The rest of the funds will got to HIV clinics across the country targeted to areas where infections have increased but treatment has been harder to find.
The human immunodeficiency virus has infected an estimated 60 million people worldwide since awareness of the disease began in earnest nearly 30 years ago.
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