- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 28, 2003

Armed with a bill to triple U.S. funding to fight AIDS globally, President Bush will press the world’s other richest nations to bolster their commitment in fighting the epidemic at the Group of Eight (G-8) summit in France next week. The U.S. initiative has been supported effusively by the foot soldiers against AIDS, but some of the administration’s more dogged detractors are determined to malign the effort, criticizing the unilateral nature of America’s generosity. Other officials from across the widening Atlantic divide have said the effort is geared at neutralizing anti-American sentiment in wake of the Iraq war.

But according to Jose Zuniga, president of the International Association of Physicians in AIDS Care, “this is a pledge that was long in coming,” adding, “initial discussions began last year.” Mr. Zuniga and other AIDS experts say the $15 billion America has pledged to give over five years should be sufficient to reach the goals Washington outlined, which are to prevent 7 million new infections (or 60 percent of the projected 12 million new infections in the target countries), care for 10 million HIV-infected people and AIDS orphans, and provide anti-retroviral therapy for 2 million people. AIDS has killed more than 20 million people worldwide. In Africa alone, every day 8,000 more people die of AIDS and there are 14,000 more infections.

Mr. Bush, who signed the a bill for the funding on Tuesday, said, “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. Zuniga said that America’s commitment will certainly ratchet up the peer pressure on other G-8 nations to increase their generosity. It is probably this pressure that is the source of much of the criticism of America’s effort. In Europe, for example, “there are basic grumblings that they’re facing economic challenges and it would be a stretch for them to match a sum as high as $15 billion,” said Mr. Zuniga.

And many unlikely candidates have given Mr. Bush unqualified support. “You’ll think I’m off my trolley when I say this, but the Bush administration is the most radical — in a positive sense — in the approach to Africa since Kennedy,” Live AID founder and musician Bob Geldof told the Guardian, adding Europe’s own response had been “pathetic and appalling.”

Other G-8 countries are only too aware that these observations will only gain momentum as the dollars are disbursed. And it is precisely this which makes Mr. Bush’s generous commitment so detestable to a wealthy few — and so welcomed by a suffering multitude.

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