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Bush Wants $30 Billion to Fight AIDS

President Says Money Is Needed to Help Treat AIDS Patients in Poor Nations
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

May 30, 2007 -- President Bush on Wednesday called for the U.S. to spend a record $30 billion to fight AIDS overseas, a move he said would more than double the number patients receiving drug treatment in poor countries.

The spending would expand the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, a $15 billion program started in 2003. The plan funds AIDS prevention and treatment in 15 poor countries hardest hit by the AIDS epidemic, mostly in Africa.

The five-year plan runs out at the end of 2008, and Congress will have to reauthorize the program if it is to continue beyond President Bush's term.

"Many HIV-positive Americans are able to lead productive lives. The story has been quite different elsewhere, especially in sub-Saharan Africa," the president said during brief remarks in the White House Rose Garden.

Officials estimate the plan has provided antiretroviral drug treatment to 1.1 million people in South Africa, Tanzania, Mozambique, and other countries. The president said increased funding would expand treatment to 2.5 million additional people and prevent HIV infection in an estimated 12 million people.

AIDS has killed an estimated 25 million people since 1981, mostly in Africa. An additional 40 million people are infected with HIV, according to UNAIDS. Two-thirds of the nearly 3 million people who died of AIDS worldwide in 2006 lived in sub-Saharan Africa, the organization reports.

Congress to Step In

The plan enjoys bipartisan support in Congress, which will ultimately decide how heavily to fund it in coming years. It remains unclear what programs Congress would cut to find an additional $15 billion, and the president on Wednesday made no suggestions in that regard.

"We'll be working with Congress on that issue," says Ambassador Mark Dybul, the U.S. global AIDS coordinator.

The White House also has not said whether it intends to use the additional money to increase the number of countries covered under the emergency plan in addition to expanding programs within the 15 countries covered now.

"That's actually been discussed at some length, and there are points of view represented by both thoughts. But we will be expanding the number of people that are served," Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt tells WebMD.

The president urged Congress to move quickly on a bill reauthorizing the program, though lawmakers won't decide on actual funding levels until next year. Quick action would also allow Bush to leave a mark on the program before leaving office, rather than leaving it to his successor to shape the policy.

Double Funding?

David Bryden a spokesman for the Global AIDS Alliance, an activist group, questions the president's claim that the proposed expansion would actually double U.S. AIDS funding. He points out that the White House requested $5.5 billion for the program next year in order to reach the $15 billion in total funding by 2008.

It's a small increase, not a doubling of what would have happened anyway," Bryden says. "A true doubling would be more in the realm of 50 [billion]."

Jean Pape, MD, head of the Haitian Association for the Study of Kaposi's Sarcoma and Opportunistic Infections, tells WebMD that U.S.-funded AIDS prevention efforts require even more money in place by local health agencies.

"As you test more people, you'll find more people who are infected and therefore need more treatment," he says.

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