- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 4, 2003

AIDS initiative will help millions of African children About a year ago in this space, I wrote about the ugly facts about HIV/AIDS in Africa in general, and an upclose look at them in Uganda in particular. This year, President Bush put money where America’s mouth is. But Washington politics, as usual, means you might need to lend your voice to this worthy cause.In his State of the Union address, President Bush announced an emergency plan for AIDS relief, a generous initiative that would commit $15 billion over five years to prevent HIV/AIDS, treat people already infected and provide care for the millions of children orphaned by the virus. The commitment is necessary to help, in the president’s words, “turn the tide against AIDS in the most afflicted nations of Africa and the Caribbean.” The policy turns on the fundamental morals of safe sex — abstinence, fidelity and condoms, which helped Uganda turn around its pervasive HIV/AIDS rates. It’s the kind of compassionate conservatism that churns the stomachs of liberals and silences the hardest of hearts.The ABC’s of partisan politics — Always Be Contrary — are cause for concern, though. Conservatives are concerned about condom distribution and not enough emphasis on abstinence in the enabling legislation. I agree. Democrats, meanwhile, get nervous anytime the A word is used because to them the only options for family planning are abortions and birth control pills. Consequently, the other popular A word — amendments — is making the rounds on Capitol Hill. In the meantime, the wicked AIDS virus wends its way around Africa.• Of the 42 million people around the globe with HIV, 30 million live in Africa.• The majority of new infections are in the 15-to-24-year-old age group, and adolescent girls and young women are the most vulnerable. • Of the 1.8 million pregnant women infected with the virus, 1.5 million live in sub-Saharan Africa.• Because of HIV/AIDS, life expectancy in South Africa is expected to drop from 53 years to 41 over the next several years.If none of those uncompromising stats pushes you into e-mailing or calling your congressman, consider this: 3 million African children under age 15 have the virus, and 10 million other African children have become orphans because of the disease. Can you hear me now? I said 10 million children.Some of these children have lost all immediate family members. Many grade-school-age Ugandans are cared for by a coterie offemale elders. These are not 40- and 50-year-old grandmothers, like we see in America. These are true elders — women in their 70s and 80s.Mr. Bush modeled his initiative after the Ugandan ABC one program because HIV/AIDS programs there, many funded by the World Bank, have measurable success. For example, while billboards promote the use of condoms, faith-based organizations in that mostly Christian nation play a significant role in social services, including preaching abstinence. One such program is Mildmay International, which offers comprehensive care for HIV/AIDS patients of all ages and also trains caregivers. The three-pronged approach helped drive down Uganda’s HIV/AIDS rate from 30 percent in 1993 to 6 percent in 2002.Yet, when it comes to the similarly designed Bush initiative, the abstinence and fidelity aspects don’t go far enough for some conservative and religious groups, while the abstinence and fidelity aspects go too far for some liberals and religious groups. The House wrapped up its bill yesterday, andSenate Majority Leader Bill Frist wants his chamber to approve legislation by Memorial Day.Can’t please all of the politicians all of the time. Shouldn’t waste time trying. Then again, AIDS relief isn’t about the people who happened to be elected to represent us on Capitol Hill. And, frankly, the initiative isn’t about Planned Parenthood or religious hardliners.The Bush plan is about AIDS relief. To prevent 7 million new infections. To treat millions already infected. To provide care for millions of children who, through no fault of their own, are orphaned.Our president didn’t announce a mere plan for AIDS relief. That night, he proposed an “emergency plan.” As Mr. Bush said, “AIDS can be prevented. Anti-retroviral drugs can extend life for many years. And the cost of those drugs has dropped from $12,000 a year to under $300 a year, which places a tremendous opportunity within our grasp. Ladies and gentleman, seldom has history offered a greater opportunity to do so much for so many.”So pay attention, readers. Pay close attention. There is not one reason why Congress can’t wrap up the AIDS initiative before you marinade those babybacks, pull that pork and fire up the grill on Memorial Day weekend.If you sense senators might not meet that deadline, you know what to do.

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