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George W. Bush Calls Out Republicans Trying to End HIV Program PEPFAR

George W. Bush Calls Out Republicans Trying to End HIV Program PEPFAR

<p>George W. Bush Calls Out Republicans Trying to End HIV Program PEPFAR</p>

The former president urged Congress to continue funding PEPFAR, a program that was created under his presidency that’s saved more than 25 million lives.


Republican former President George W. Bush has made his case to preserve the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR, after GOP lawmakers have attempted to cut the program because they say it promotes a leftist agenda.

In an op-ed for The Washington Post, Bush encouraged lawmakers to continue supporting the program that was created under his leadership and called the initiative “sufficiently pro-life.”

“When I took office in 2001, the situation with HIV/AIDS on the African continent and elsewhere was dire,” he wrote. He explained that advisers including Condoleezza Rice, Joshua Bolten, and Michael Gerson counseled him to act.

Bush said that while Democrats and Republicans should be celebrating the success of the program and the 25 million lives it has been estimated to have saved, some are calling the future of the program into question.

He wrote, “We are on the verge of ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic. To abandon our commitment now would forfeit two decades of unimaginable progress and raise further questions about the worth of America’s word.”

The former president recalled his former chief of staff, Gerson, explaining that not acting to end HIV and AIDS around the world would be “a source of national shame.”

Gerson, who was a regular Post contributor, died last year.

The former adviser wrote often about the global AIDS crisis. Bush used Gerson’s own words to defend the program. In previous op-eds, Gerson had pointed to the success and need of the program. That included the fact that life expectancy had fallen in some parts of sub-Saharan Africa by more than 20 years due to the AIDS pandemic. Before PEPFAR, of the 30 million people living with HIV in the region, maybe 50,000 were receiving necessary treatment.

In another piece, Gerson spoke about how mothers who died of complications to AIDS would leave “memory boxes” for their children to remember them by. “Facing an absurd death sentence, these women wanted to be recalled not as victims but as humans,” Gerson had written in 2012. He added that due to PEPFAR there was a “hundredfold” increase in those on HIV medications compared to the previous decade.

“There is no program more pro-life than one which has saved more than 25 million lives,” Bush wrote. “I urge Congress to reauthorize PEPFAR for another five years without delay.”

PEPFAR, which is estimated to have saved those 25 million lives through the distribution of anti-HIV drugs, educational programs, and more, expires September 30. Its reauthorization is being held up by Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives, who claim that some PEPFAR funds are being used to promote abortion. A report released this year by the Heritage Foundation, a right-wing think tank, asserted that “the Biden Administration has misused the program as a well-funded vehicle to promote its domestic radical social agenda overseas.”

This includes LGBTQ+ rights and access to abortion, the think tank and other conservatives claim. The report also calls HIV and AIDS “primarily a lifestyle disease” that “should be suppressed though education, moral suasion, and legal sanctions.” Republican U.S. Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey has highlighted the Heritage Foundation report in the fight over PEPFAR. President Biden’s administration says the allegation about abortion is baseless.

The Biden administration contends that annual reauthorization will weaken the program, and it wants a five-year reauthorization with no new conditions added.

On Monday, seven AIDS activists were arrested protesting the delay at Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy's office.

The former president ended his op-ed with Gerson’s words from November 2017. Gerson stated that the only way to end HIV and AIDS was to fully fund attempts to end the pandemic.

“Are Republicans in Congress prepared to squander a legacy of GOP leadership that has won the United States considerable goodwill around the world?” Gerson wrote. “Among evangelical Christians, what definition of being ‘pro-life’ does not include saving millions of lives from preventable disease and death?”

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