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Dec. 2002 Health News This Month

Posted January 29, 2003

Bush asks for $15 billion to fight AIDS in Africa, including in Haiti

By Maggie Fox, Reuters Health and Science Correspondent  

WASHINGTON (Reuters), Jan. 29 - President Bush, under fire from AIDS groups for what they call his neglect of the epidemic, asked Congress Tuesday to triple AIDS spending in Africa and Haiti to $15 billion over five years.

The announcement, made in his annual State of the Union Address, took AIDS campaigners by surprise, but they quickly both welcomed the plan and expressed skepticism about it.

"I ask the Congress to commit $15 billion over the next five years, including nearly $10 billion in new money, to turn the tide against AIDS in the most afflicted nations of Africa and the Caribbean," Bush said.

"This comprehensive plan will prevent 7 million new AIDS infections, treat at least 2 million people with life-extending drugs and provide humane care for millions of people suffering from AIDS and for children orphaned by AIDS," Bush added.

On its Web site at http://www.whitehouse.gov, the White House said the plan would target Botswana, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Guyana, Haiti, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.

It said the plan calls for the United States to work with private groups and governments to "put in place a comprehensive plan for diagnosing, preventing and treating AIDS."

Stephen Lewis, the United Nations (news - web sites) special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, welcomed what he called "the first dramatic signal from the US administration that it is now ready to confront the pandemic and to save or prolong millions of lives."

"It opens the floodgates of hope. Most importantly, it issues a challenge to every other member of the G7 to follow suit," he said in South Africa after a tour of the region.

Physicians for Human Rights, which campaigns on a range of issues from land mines to HIV/AIDS, last week urged Bush to increase global AIDS spending to $3.5 billion a year.

"This is totally unexpected," John Heffernan, a spokesman for the group, said in a telephone interview. "We applaud it. It really is an extraordinary commitment that clearly shows that the United States is serious about combating AIDS."

The Global AIDS Alliance welcomed the news but worried that the Bush administration could be competing with existing AIDS funds, such as the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. The United States has been accused of not putting its fair share into the Fund.

"In the (White House) fact sheet it said only $1 billion of the $10 billion in new money will go to the Global Fund," said Dr. Paul Zeitz, executive director of the Global AIDS Alliance. "We are very concerned that will leave the fund vastly underfunded and undermine its success."

A SLOW START?

Zeitz also said it looked like the program would start out slowly, with just $2 billion allocated for next year.

The International Association for Physicians in AIDS Care said it would closely watch what would be done with the money, if Congress approved it.

"The devil is in the details," said Scott Wolfe, a spokesman for the group. But he also strongly welcomed the move, adding: "We call on other global leaders to step up and demonstrate similar commitments."

More than 36 million people are infected with the virus that causes AIDS--25 million in Africa alone. The United Nations predicts AIDS will kill 70 million people in the next 20 years unless rich nations step up efforts.

Bush noted this. "There are whole countries in Africa where more than one third of the adult population carries the infection," he said. "More than 4 million require immediate drug treatment. Yet across that continent, only 50,000 AIDS victims--only 50,000--are receiving the medicine they need."

There is no cure for AIDS, but a cocktail of expensive drugs known as anti-retrovirals can keep disease at bay. Campaigners have been angered that such drugs are available in rich nations but not to the countries hardest hit by the epidemic.

"AIDS can be prevented," Bush said. "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 possibility within our grasp."

The new Senate majority leader, Tennessee Republican Bill Frist, nodded and smiled as Bush spoke. Frist, a medical doctor, does frequent volunteer work in Africa.

"It's unprecedented. It is huge. And of everything he said tonight, it has the capacity to save more lives in this country I would say, but also globally, than anything else said," Frist told CNN.

Copyright 2003 Reuters Limited.

                                                                                                                                                                                        Posted January 23, 2003

U.S. launches HIV education program in Vietnamese workplaces as it did in Haiti

By Margie Mason, Associated Press Writer

HANOI, Vietnam - In an effort to slow the spread of HIV (news - web sites) and AIDS (news - web sites) in Vietnam, the United States launched a US$600,000 program Thursday to promote education in the workplace about the disease.

The program aims to prevent further infection and help to make workplaces more tolerable for those already infected.

"If people are having unprotected sex, they'll probably go in and talk about condom use," said Jennifer Bacchus, a representative for the U.S. Department of Labor. "If there's a big drug problem, they'll talk about needles and those sort of issues."

The program also will work with employers on how to be more understanding when employees get tested, regardless of the results.

"We will encourage people to be tested, to keep the results confidential and to provide counseling and support," said Patrick Burke, project coordinator from the Academy for Educational Development, an American non-governmental organization. "It's an idea whose time has come."

Burke's group is coordinating the project, funded by U.S. Department of Labor.

In the early 1990s, several workers in Vietnam were fired after testing HIV-positive. As a result, many infections likely went undetected because employees didn't want to be tested for fear of being ostracized.

"Part of the program is to try to decrease the discrimination and stigma," Bacchus said. "They plan to explain to employers (that) just because somebody is HIV-positive, it doesn't mean they cannot work. They need to come up with a way to support them. And that doesn't mean firing them, but helping them get the help they need."

Health experts estimate there are 135,000 HIV-infected people in Vietnam, with intravenous drug users believed to be the biggest risk group.

Official government figures say there are some 56,000 infections and have been more than 4,600 deaths since the country's first case was reported in 1990.

The United States is funding similar programs in the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Nigeria, Zimbabwe and the Ukraine.

Copyright 2003 The Associated Press                                                                      

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