Bush pledges more funds for HIV treatment
President Bush, on a fund-raising trip to Philadelphia, said Wednesday he will commit more money to a program for delivering medications to Americans with HIV and AIDS. The Administration said it would make an additional $20 million available immediately for the state-run AIDS Drug Assistance Programs. Bush also said he supports renewing the Ryan White CARE Act, which provides funds domestically to help HIV-positive people. The law expires next year. "Every man and woman and child who suffers from this affliction--from the streets of Philly to the villages of Africa--is a child of God who deserves our love and our help," Bush said during the speech at Philadelphia's Greater Exodus Baptist Church.
The president's speech focused on both the domestic and the international AIDS pandemics. To combat AIDS at home, Bush outlined a three-part strategy: supporting prevention programs; providing better treatment and care; and acting as quickly as possible to get lifesaving drugs to the neediest patients. He also said he has proposed increases in other AIDS-related programs and medical research, including $2.8 billion for the National Institutes of Health in 2005.
Bush continued to back abstinence education as the best way to prevent HIV infections, both at home and abroad. "We need to tell our children that abstinence is the only certain way to avoid contracting HIV. It works every time," Bush said. "We must ask them to lead healthy and responsible lives." He said he plans to encourage faith-based and community groups that promote abstinence to play larger roles in HIV prevention education to help slow the spread of HIV among at-risk groups.
The Administration also announced it was making Vietnam the 15th country in its $15 billion plan to fight AIDS. While India and other countries have a larger HIV-positive population, the White House opted to add Vietnam to its global AIDS focus because it is on the brink of an AIDS epidemic, with cases predicted to rise from 130,000 currently to 1 million by 2010, officials said. Vietnam is the first country outside Africa and the Caribbean to be included in the AIDS plan that Bush unveiled in 2003. Congress approved the five-year $15 billion AIDS relief plan last year with broad bipartisan support, but there's since been some criticism that actual spending is not reaching the promised level. Congress appropriated $2.4 billion in this fiscal year for the program and is seeking $2.8 billion for next year. The Administration has said it will increase spending in later years to reach the $15 billion mark.
California Democratic congresswoman Barbara Lee, a leading advocate for the international AIDS bill, praised the president's action on Vietnam but said, "We also need the president to live up to his promises and provide full funding to our global HIV/AIDS initiative if we are to tackle not only Vietnam but India, Russia, and China. That means we need nothing less than $3.6 billion this year." (With reports from the Associated Press)