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Posted May 28, 2003
                      
Bush signs AIDS plan; tells Europe to follow suit
                            
By Adam Entous, Reuters Writer

WASHINGTON, May 27 (Reuters) - President Bush signed into law on Tuesday a $15 billion plan to help fund the fight against AIDS in Africa and the Caribbean, and challenged Europe to match America's "generous" commitment without delay.

bush signs 1.jpg (16713 bytes)
President George W. Bush pauses during remarks before signing the $15 billion U.S. Leadership Against HIV/AIDS Act of 2003 during a ceremony at the State Department in Washington, May 27, 2003. Bush, who said that 'we have a moral duty to act and we are acting' to combat the epidemic in African and Caribbean countries, will challenge allies to match the effort when he attends the G8 Summit in Europe next week. (Mike Theiler/Reuters)

While pop star Bono and other global AIDS activists welcomed Bush's pledge, critics said his actual budget falls far short of what is needed at a time when AIDS kills one person every 10 seconds.

"We have a moral duty to act and we are acting," Bush said at the signing ceremony, where he compared the AIDS effort to rebuilding Europe after World War II.

By agreeing to triple to $15 billion U.S. spending in the fight against AIDS over the next five years, Bush sought to highlight a friendlier side of U.S. foreign policy after the war in Iraq. The war sparked a backlash from European powers France, Germany and Russia, straining relations with the United States.

At next week's "Group of Eight" summit of major industrial nations in France, Bush said he would "challenge our partners and our friends to follow our lead and to make a similar commitment."

"I will remind them that time is not on our side. Every day of delay means 8,000 more AIDS deaths in Africa and 14,000 more infections," Bush said.

Washington's demands could further strain transatlantic relations. Earlier this month Bush accused Europe of impeding American efforts to combat famine and poverty in Africa by banning genetically modified crops.

The new law, which Bush made a priority in his State of the Union address, will make anti-viral treatment available to about 2 million HIV-infected people in Africa and the Caribbean who cannot afford the costly cocktail of drugs that can prolong and improve their lives.

It will also provide hospice care for the dying, help some of the 13 million children who have lost one or both parents and intensify prevention programs through strategies like sexual abstinence education and promotion of condom use.

Bush said it has the potential to prevent 7 million new HIV infections within the decade.

The legislation sets out a spending framework for $15 billion over five years but does not put any dollars in the pot. That must be done in Congress' annual appropriations bills.

Bush promised to "keep our commitment until we have turned the tide against AIDS."

"With today's bill signing, the world moves an important step closer to supporting a response that begins to match the magnitude of the challenge. But there is still a long way to go," said Peter Piot, executive director of the joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS.

Critics said Bush's proposed budget for next year included just over half of the $3 billion promised. They called on the White House and Congress to immediately close the funding gap.

"Everyone needs to watch the president and make sure that he gets that funding to implement this bill, or else it's a lot of empty rhetoric," said Paul Zeitz, executive director of the Global AIDS Alliance.

Some 20 million to 25 million people have died of AIDS and at least 40 million more are infected with HIV, with Africa and the Caribbean having high rates of infection.

The AIDS initiative focuses principally on Botswana, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia, as well as Guyana and Haiti in the Caribbean.

Copyright 2003 Reuters Limited

                    
Posted May 18, 2003
              
As AIDS ravages Caribbean, governments confront denial
                      
                                    
Posted May 15, 2003
                    
Senate debates sweeping global AIDS bill
                          
By Joanne Kenen, Reuters Writer

WASHINGTON, May 15 (Reuters) - Addressing "the greatest humanitarian crisis of the 21st century," the U.S. Senate on Thursday was poised to pass a $15 billion initiative aimed at slowing the AIDS pandemic that is ravaging the world's poorest countries.

At a time when AIDS is claiming one life every 10 seconds, the bill would provide anti-viral treatment to some of the millions of HIV-infected people in Africa and the Caribbean, who cannot afford the costly cocktail of drugs that can prolong and improve their lives.

It will also provide hospice care for the dying, assist some of the 13 million children who have lost one or both parents to the disease, and intensify prevention programs using an array of strategies including sexual abstinence education as well as promotion of condom use.

Although some contentious debate is likely on a handful of amendments centering on abstinence, African debt relief and the size of U.S. contributions to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the bill is expected to pass by a large bipartisan margin late Thursday night or early Friday.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a Tennessee Republican who has made AIDS a signature issue, called the HIV-AIDS pandemic "the greatest humanitarian crisis in the 21st century" and said,

"This bill opens up hope." The bill is known as an "authorizing" bill -- meaning it sets a spending framework but doesn't put any dollars in the pot. That has to be done in Congress's annual appropriations bills, but Frist stated clearly that he backs full funding. "I support investing $3 billion a year for five years," Frist told reporters.

SIGN LEGISLATION

The House passed the bill two weeks ago and President Bush (news - web sites), who called for the initiative in his State of the Union address earlier this year, is eager to sign legislation before attending a summit of industrial nations June 1. The goal is to encourage other nations to similarly step up their commitment.

The AIDS initiative focuses on 12 African countries -- Botswana, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia -- as well as Guyana and Haiti in the Caribbean.

Though Democrats praised Bush for making this a priority, several noted that Bush and House Republicans had not helped earlier bipartisan Senate efforts to pass major AIDS legislation.

"The president could have had this legislation last year or even earlier this year had the administration and its Republican allies in Congress wanted it," said Massachusetts Democrat John Kerry.

Frist began the day meeting with a dozen or so African ambassadors. Mary Kanya of Swaziland evoked a painful image of dead parents grieving from beyond the grave for their orphaned children, and urged the Senate to "Send a message to Africa -- the beginning of the end has arrived."

"We are standing on the threshold of the extinction of the African people," Kanya added. "Too many people are crying out for help from beyond the grave."

Copyright 2003 Reuters Limited

                               
Posted May 2, 2003
          
U.S. House triples money for global AIDS fight
                 
By Joanne Kenen, Reuters Writer

WASHINGTON, May 1 (Reuters) - The U.S. House of Representatives voted on Thursday to triple to $15 billion U.S. spending in the fight against AIDS over the next five years, vastly expanding U.S. efforts to combat the deadly virus in some of the world's poorest nations.

California Democrat Rep. Tom Lantos called it "grand humanitarian legislation."

The bill passed by a 375-41 vote, even after incorporation of social conservatives' amendments that gave a greater role to faith-based groups and sexual abstinence programs in fighting AIDS.

The money would pay for anti-viral medications for people already suffering from AIDS and try to slow the spread of an incurable virus that has decimated families, villages and urban areas in Africa and the Caribbean. It will also help fight tuberculosis and malaria.

President Bush, whose surprise call for a $15 billion initiative in his State of the Union address in January won praise across the spectrum, lauded the House vote and urged the Senate to follow suit. Senate leaders plan to take up similar legislation in the next few weeks.

"The fight against AIDS is a moral imperative our great nation must confront decisively and boldly," Bush said. "Today's action is an important step toward providing critically needed treatment and care for millions of people suffering from AIDS, and proven prevention programs for millions more who are at risk."

ONE-THIRD OF FUNDS

Under an amendment offered by Rep. Joseph Pitts of Pennsylvania and Rep. Henry Hyde of Illinois, both Republicans, one-third of the prevention funds would be dedicated to programs teaching abstinence until marriage.

Prevention would account for about 20 percent of the bilateral U.S. aid under the bill, and although many moderates and liberals objected, it didn't tilt the spending balance so far that they withdraw support from the overall initiative.

The Pitts-Hyde amendment gave more emphasis to abstinence than the original draft, which called for a more even promotion of abstinence, monogamy and condom use.

The bill compromised on the politically sensitive abortion issue. It did not bar giving U.S. tax dollars to AIDS programs run by international family planning organizations that promote abortion, as long as the AIDS programs are kept completely independent of the family planning programs.

NOT WEAKNESS BUT STRENGTH

Hyde, who helped write the bill as chairman of the House Committee on International Affairs, said the legislation shows the world that "compassion is not a sign of weakness but of strength. "The HIV/AIDS pandemic is more than a humanitarian crisis," Hyde said. "Increasingly it's a threat to the security of the developed world."

The AIDS initiative focuses on 12 African countries -- Botswana, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia -- as well as Guyana and Haiti in the Caribbean. AIDS has killed 25 million people -- 8,500 a day in 2002. By 2010 the death toll is likely to reach 80 million. It has also created millions of orphans.

Florida Democrat Rep. Alcee Hastings noted that Africa had about 10 percent of the world's population -- but about 70 percent of its HIV infections.

The bill would pay for anti-viral drugs for about two million people infected with the HIV virus, and for palliative care for the dying. It finances vaccine research and programs to keep families together and help orphans.

Rep. Barbara Lee, a California Democrat who has been at the forefront of the effort to increase U.S. spending on AIDS, said the campaign to control AIDS must be similar to the Marshall Plan that rebuilt western Europe after World War II.

The House bill authorizes up to $1 billion a year for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, as long as the United States is not providing more than one-third of the money. That is seen as an incentive to get other countries to increase their contributions.

Jamie Drummond, executive director of an African relief group known as DATA that pop star Bono is associated with, said that if Bush can sign this legislation by the end of the month, it may encourage other industrialized countries to increase their commitments to the war on AIDS at their summit on June 1.

Copyright 2003 Reuters Limited                                                                                                                       

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