President Bush Proposes $15 Billion Over Five Years To Fight International AIDS Epidemic
President Bush in his State of the Union address last night proposed spending $15 billion over the next five years to fight HIV/AIDS in Africa and the Caribbean, a plan which includes $10 billion in new money, the Boston Globe reports. Under the plan, new funds averaging an additional $2 billion per year would be phased in gradually to the $1 billion per year the government now spends on AIDS, according to the Globe. White House officials said the new money would be focused on providing aid to Botswana, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Guyana, Haiti, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia (Donnelly, Boston Globe, 1/29). However, only $1 billion would go to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, a "considerably" lower sum than the fund's Executive Director Richard Feachem has sought, the Washington Post reports (Blustein, Washington Post, 1/29). United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has said that the U.S. contribution to the Global Fund should be about $2.5 billion annually, or one-fourth of the fund's $10 billion annual budget goal, the New York Times reports (Gay Stolberg, New York Times, 1/29). In his speech, President Bush noted that many people suffering from AIDS in Africa are told to "go home and die." Bush said, "In an age of miraculous medicines, no one should have to hear these words. AIDS can be prevented. Antiretroviral 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 possibility within our grasp" (State of the Union text, 1/28).
Advocates Give Wary Praise
According to the Washington Post, the details on how the proposed money would be used were "sketchy" (Washington Post, 1/29). Many advocates said they would like to see more details of the plan, although they praised the "thrust" of the initiative, the Globe reports. Paul Davis, director of U.S. government relations for Health GAP, said his organization "applaud[s] the president for acting to address the plague of AIDS in Africa," but added that "the administration has an unfortunate record of delaying funding for AIDS initiatives" (Boston Globe, 1/29). Stephen Lewis, U.N. special envoy on HIV/AIDS in Africa, said in an interview that the pledge for more spending is "only a first step," the Toronto Globe and Mail reports. "This is a signal that the United States has decided to respond to the pandemic much more seriously than it has before. ... The promise has been made, the assurance has been given; we have to make sure this happens," he said (Fowlie, Globe and Mail, 1/29). Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, said the initiative will save "millions from the certainty of death by pledging treatment" (AHF release, 1/29). Irish rock star Bono, who has been campaigning for more AIDS funding and awareness, said, "If we can turn the president's bold long-term vision into near-term results, we're excited. Any delay in increased funding means more lives lost and an even bigger check in the future" (Agence France-Presse, 1/29). Dr. Paul Zeitz, executive director of the Global AIDS Alliance, said the president's announcement was "encouraging" but added that a phased-in approach will not work from a public health standpoint (Global AIDS Alliance release, 1/28). According to the New York Times, Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice "are both said to be devoted to the issue," as is Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) (New York Times, 1/29). In an interview with NPR's "Morning Edition," Frist said, "I was blown away. ... I'll bet you 10 years from now, when we look back, the single most important part of the speech will be this unprecedented commitment. ... Now that is unbelievable" (Williams, "Morning Edition," NPR, 1/29). The Times notes that Congress must approve the initiative before any funds become available (New York Times, 1/29).
Video of Bush's State of the Union remarks on HIV/AIDS is available online in RealPlayer.
The full segment of NPR's interview with Frist will be available online in RealPlayer after noon ET.