State of the Union speech includes $15 billion global AIDS proposal

By Advocate.com Editors

Originally published on Advocate.com January 30 2003 12:00 AM ET

President Bush in his State of the Union speech on Tuesday included a new proposal to spend $15 billion over the next five years to fight HIV/AIDS in Africa and the Caribbean, called the Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. The government currently spends about $1 billion per year on international HIV/AIDS efforts; the new proposal would add $2 billion a year in new funding, The Boston Globe reports. Following Bush's speech, White House officials said that the new funds would be focused on providing HIV prevention and treatment services in Botswana, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Guyana, Haiti, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia. Bush's proposal also includes U.S. contributions of $1 billion per year to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria.

Bush devoted a larger-than-expected portion of his speech to HIV/AIDS issues, saying that the pandemic in Africa has resulted in most HIV-positive people being told by health care providers to simply "go home and die." Bush called that situation unacceptable. "In an age of miraculous medicines, no one should have to hear these words," he said. "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."

AIDS activists welcomed Bush's proposal and were pleased that the president addressed HIV/AIDS issues in his annual address, but they are withholding more enthusiastic praise until the details of the new initiative are made public. Paul Davis, director of U.S. government relations for Health GAP, was encouraged by Bush's comments but noted that "the Administration has an unfortunate record of delaying funding for AIDS initiatives." Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, also offered up tempered praise for Bush's proposal, saying it could save "millions from the certainty of death by pledging treatment," but he withheld a more ringing endorsement until the Administration discusses the initiative more fully.

The only mention Bush made of domestic HIV/AIDS efforts was to note, "We have confronted and will continue to confront HIV/AIDS in our own country."