- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 27, 2003


President Bush yesterday signed a $15 billion global AIDS bill, saying it was the “moral duty” of the United States to act against a disease that had killed more than 20 million people worldwide.

“We believe in the value and dignity of every human life,” Mr. Bush said, likening the AIDS initiative to U.S. relief and rebuilding efforts in Europe during World War II.

“We are the nation of the Marshall Plan, the Berlin airlift and the Peace Corps, and now we are the nation of the emergency plan for AIDS relief,” Mr. Bush said at the State Department ceremony.

Representatives of 25 nations gathered for the event at which he signed the five-year plan designed to help prevent and treat AIDS, especially in 12 African and two Caribbean nations.

If fully implemented, the legislation is supposed to prevent 7 million new infections, care for 10 million HIV-infected people and AIDS orphans, and provide antiretroviral therapy for 2 million.

Signing the bill gives Mr. Bush more leverage to press other wealthy nations to work harder against the disease as he prepares for a European summit. The president had urged Congress to get the bill to his desk before his trip to the Group of Eight summit Sunday through Tuesday in Evian, France. He is expected to use the legislation to solicit other countries to contribute more to the cause.

The G-8 comprises the leaders of the world’s seven richest countries — the United States, Japan, Germany, France, Britain, Italy and Canada — plus Russia.

“I will challenge our partners and our friends to follow our lead and to make a similar commitment made by the United States of America so we can save even more lives,” Mr. Bush said of his trip to Europe. “I will remind them that time is not on our side.”

Dr. Peter Piot, who directs a joint U.N. program on HIV/AIDS, praised the legislation, saying resources directed to scientifically proven interventions can reduce deaths dramatically, even where the epidemic is most severe.

“For the first time, there is a concerted global effort to close the treatment gap that denies life-saving HIV medicines to 95 percent of the people living with AIDS around the world,” Dr. Piot said.

The new AIDS package, which Congress completed last week, recommended that 55 percent of direct aid go to treatment programs, 20 percent to prevention, 15 percent to palliative care and 10 percent to children orphaned by the disease. It also would allow, but not require, the administration to contribute up to $1 billion in 2004 to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

“This is a whole new day in the fight against this epidemic,” said Mark Isaac, vice president of the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation. The foundation fights HIV and AIDS, and other serious and life-threatening diseases affecting children.

To appease conservatives, the measure stipulates that one-third of the money going toward prevention be set aside for projects that promote abstinence — an issue that was prominent in the final congressional debate. The bill says religious groups will not lose funding because they oppose certain preventive methods, such as condom distribution.

Supporters of the legislation said Uganda has been successful in lowering infection rates with its “ABC” program of “Abstinence, Be Faithful and Condom use when appropriate.” Others say it is a mistake to focus on any one strategy when local customs vary widely.

While the legislation nearly triples current U.S. contributions to AIDS programs, Congress still must approve spending levels in its annual budget appropriations process. The bill calls for spending $3 billion a year, but the administration is seeking only $1.7 billion in fiscal 2004, $2 billion if related programs for malaria and tuberculosis are included.

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