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Bush Seeks Extra $300 Million to Help Fight AIDS

Health: Funds would go to curb mother-to-child HIV transmission in the Caribbean and Africa.


WASHINGTON -- President Bush pledged Wednesday to seek an additional $300 million to help nations in Africa and the Caribbean protect infants from the spread of HIV, which experts say infects 2,000 newborns every day.

"The global devastation of HIV/AIDS staggers the imagination and shocks the conscience," Bush said in a brief Rose Garden appearance.

Bush made his commitment as activists and many lawmakers on Capitol Hill are calling for greater spending to combat the worldwide spread of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. After the president's announcement, some criticized his proposal as insufficient.

"The fact is that the U.S. has ample resources to help fight global AIDS. Yet, sadly, the president still seems unprepared to show real leadership," said Paul Zeitz, executive director of the Global AIDS Alliance.

Bush's announcement preceded two high-profile annual gatherings that will focus attention on the international fight against AIDS: the Group of 8 meeting of the world's leading industrialized nations next week in Canada, where a major emphasis will be on financial assistance to Africa; and the XIV International AIDS Conference next month in Barcelona, Spain.

The $300 million that Bush intends to seek from Congress in fiscal 2004 would come on top of the current $200 million that the United States is spending annually for the Mother and Child HIV Prevention Initiative.

Worldwide, acquired immune deficiency syndrome has killed more than 20 million people and, Bush said, is "poised to kill at least 40 million more."

Experts believe that one of the best ways to fight AIDS is to prevent women from passing the human immunodeficiency virus to their offspring during pregnancy, birth or breast-feeding.

A key component of that strategy is to administer a dose of nevirapine to the mother during labor, followed by a single dose to the baby within 36 hours of birth. That treatment has decreased mother-to-child transmission of the virus by as much as 50%.

Bush said the increased funding for the program would allow a total of 1 million women to be treated annually.

The African countries that would be targeted by the expanded program are Botswana, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. In the Caribbean, the aid would go to Guyana and Haiti.

More countries could be added, the White House said.

Bush's program also would seek to improve local health care delivery systems for women and infants, in part by training new medical personnel.

The emphasis on bolstering health care infrastructure won praise from Mark Isaac, director of public policy for the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, based in Santa Monica.

"This truly demonstrates leadership on the part of the president," he said. "This is of a size and scope that is considerable and is comprehensive in nature. And it's going to save lives around the world."

Those criticizing Bush's announcement included Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who termed the program "simply inadequate."

That view was echoed by Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), who is working with Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) to double the current $1 billion a year the U.S. spends to fight AIDS outside its borders.

Isaac said his foundation also supports further spending increases. "We don't pretend what Bush has proposed is enough," he said. "But it's a steppingstone to a wider, comprehensive response."

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