29 January 2008

Africa: Bush Proposes More Funds for Aids Fight

Washington, DC — United States President George W. Bush has asked Congress to vote an extra U.S. $30 billion for the President's Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (Pepfar) over the next five years.

In his final State of the Union address, delivered to Congress Monday night, Bush said: "We can bring healing and hope to many more. So I ask you to maintain the principles that have changed behavior and made this program a success… I call on you to double our initial commitment to fighting HIV/AIDS by approving an additional $30 billion…"

According to the White House, 1.4 million people have benefited from the Pepfar program. In an interview with USA Today last week, President Bush called Pepfar "a strategy that is working" and one that "has made a difference in over a million people's lives in a relatively quick period of time."

Bush says millions more lives can be saved with Pepfar funding. But David Bryden of the Global Aids Alliance accused him of obscuring the issues around HIV/Aids funding through the ambiguous use of language, stating that HIV/Aids funding is actually "flat-funding."

"The President has proposed 'doubling' spending to $30 billion, but the reality is that his proposal would not double current spending at all," said Bryden.

According to Bryden, the U.S. is spending U.S. $6 billion on HIV/Aids in 2008. Over five years, the total would be U.S. $30 billion, equaling the amount of spending Bush calls for.

Physicians for Human Rights echoed Bryden's desire for more funding, calling in a statement for U.S. $59 billion to fund the fight against Aids, tuberculosis, malaria and other global health programs. The advocacy group also called for more programs targeted at women.

"He should fund it like his life depended on it - millions of other lives do," said John Bradshaw, the group's director of public policy.

In a recent speech at Harvard Medical School, Aids-Free World co-director Stephen Lewis pointed out the difference in spending between HIV/Aids and Iraq.

"The [United States] administration spends, conservatively, up to $108 billion a year on the war in Iraq, and perhaps $5 billion in an entire year on HIV/AIDS," said Lewis. "Those priorities are so skewed as to be obscene."

Joining Bush's wife, Laura, in Congress for the State of the Union was Tanzanian Tatu Msangi and her daughter, Faith Mang'ehe. Msangi is HIV-positive, but her daughter does not have HIV because of a Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission program supported by Pepfar, according to a White House statement.

Addressing the fight against malaria, Bush told Congress: "With your help, we are working to cut by half the number of malaria-related deaths in 15 African nations." Earlier this week he called for an expansion of the Presidential Malaria Initiative.

Bryden, however, said that without additional money, "flat-funding may even affect malaria programs."

Bush also called for full funding for the Millennium Challenge Account, an aid program introduced by the Bush administration in 2002 to distribute foreign development assistance by following a corporate model. "This program strengthens democracy, transparency, and the rule of law in developing nations," the president said.

He did not limit his focus on Africa to health-related funding. "America is opposing genocide in Sudan," he said. He also called for "supporting freedom" in Zimbabwe, where elections are scheduled for March.

Karen Hirschfeld, Sudan campaign director for Physicians for Human Rights, called his statement on the country "empty rhetoric" that should be replaced with real action.

Last week, the White House announced that Bush will travel to five African countries from February 15 to February 21.

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