President Bush asked Congress yesterday to approve $30 billion over the next five years to mount a more aggressive campaign against the spread of AIDS worldwide.
The request would double the current U.S. program of $15 billion, which expires in 2008, and extend it to 2013, five years after Mr. Bush leaves office.
"The U.S. and our citizens have tackled HIV/AIDS aggressively," Mr. Bush said in remarks in the White House Rose Garden. "The story has been quite different elsewhere, especially in sub-Saharan Africa."
If approved, the President's Emergency Program for AIDS Relief, also known as PEPFAR, would increase the number of those receiving treatment to 2.5 million people from the current 1.1 million, Mr. Bush said. Compacts with nations receiving the assistance will ensure that "this money will be spent wisely," he said.
The president also said first lady Laura Bush will visit Africa in June to see the AIDS-related services that are provided in Zambia, Mali, Mozambique, and Senegal.
"She's going to come back with her findings," he said. "She and I share a passion. We believe to whom so much has been given, much is required."
The doubling of the U.S. program for AIDS is the third such White House initiative in two days leading up to next week's summit of the Group of Eight industrial nations. On Tuesday, Mr. Bush announced toughened sanctions against Sudan for the continued violence in Darfur. Earlier yesterday he selected Robert Zoellick to head the World Bank, succeeding Paul Wolfowitz, who resigned.
The U.S. effort on AIDS may serve as a counterweight to criticism of the administration in Europe over its refusal to go along with a proposal to set specific targets to curb global climate change. Germany's Chancellor Merkel, who is the host for the GĖ8 summit, has been unable to persuade the U.S. to adopt the European plan.
While the administration says its AIDS plan is the largest international health initiative in history dedicated to a single disease, advocacy groups have been critical of the administration's emphasis on abstinence education to prevent the spread of AIDS.
Rep. Barbara Lee, a Democrat of California, who helped write the legislation for the president's original AIDS measure, said Mr. Bush's plan has support from both parties.
"There are, however, still a few flaws in the program that we must fix," she said in a statement. "we must remove the abstinence-only-until-marriage prevention" provision and put more money into programs to fund basic development needs.
Bono, the lead singer of the group U2 and an activist, praised the president's plan. "The U.S. is leading the world in fighting AIDS and today has thrown down a challenge to the rest of the G8 ó meeting next week in Germany ó to step up, too," he said in a statement.
Mr. Bush's program targets 15 countries with the worst outbreaks that amount to about half of the world's 39 million people diagnosed with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Those countries are: Botswana, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Guyana, Haiti, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Vietnam, and Zambia.
Over the first five years, the program would support treatment for 2 million, prevent 7 million new infections and help care for 10 million, a White House fact sheet said.