Bush To Prod G-8 Leaders On AIDS Funding

Global health will be on the agenda at this week's Group of Eight summit. President Bush hopes the other leaders will keep a promise: They pledged billions of dollars to fight AIDS and other diseases in the developing world.

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Global health will also be on the agenda at this week's G8 summit. President Bush hopes the other leaders will keep a promise. They pledged billions of dollars to fight AIDS and other diseases in the developing world. NPR's Brenda Wilson reports.

BRENDA WILSON: President Bush will be talking to G8 leaders about the 18 billion dollars that the U.S. has already spent on AIDS, TB and Malaria, the single largest contribution to health that any member of the G8 has made to developing countries. He had hoped to have 50 billion dollars of new funding to use as leverage in urging other leaders to honor their previous commitment.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: I've asked Congress to reauthorize and expand the emergency plan for AIDS relief, doubling our funding for this vital effort. It's very important that Congress reauthorizes this plan. But in the meantime we're fulfilling our promises that we made, not only with the G8 but more importantly to the people of - on the continent of Africa.

WILSON: In past summits, G8 countries set a target of 2010 for providing universal access to HIV/AIDS prevention, care and treatment. And to get the job done, last year in Germany they pledged 60 billion dollars to build health care systems in developing countries. This is the president's last summit, but he obviously feels strong enough to remind other leaders of those promises.

President BUSH: Now we need to show the world that the G8 can be accountable for its promises and deliver results. As I said the other day, we need people who not only make promises but write checks.

WILSON: A White House spokesman wouldn't name names. But Laurie Garrett of the Council on Foreign Relations says Russia hasn't been that reliable, and don't expect much of Italy under Berlusconi who will be hosting the next G8. On the other hand...

Ms. LAURIE GARRETT (Senior Fellow for Global Health, Council on Foreign Relations): Japan had gone up and down and, in fact, on the eve of this summit has come through fulfilling all its past commitments and making some very strong new commitments. The strongest commitments have always consistently come out of the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada and France with some fluctuation from Germany.

WILSON: And that, she says, is one of the weaknesses of global health funding. It's vulnerable to the political pressures leaders face back home. And that includes the U.S.

Ms. GARRETT: As we start engaging in a vigorous domestic health debate, if we have 47 million people without health insurance in the United States, people are going to start asking why am I subsiding medical delivery for people on another continent when I can't get it here in the United States of America?

WILSON: She says if global health and AIDS activists want to move forward, they need to find ways to link themselves to other issues like poverty, climate and energy. Reginald Dale of the Center for Strategic and International Studies says even if rich countries don't whip out the checkbooks, they do know that global health is important.

Mr. REGINALD DALE (Senior fellow for European affairs, Center for Strategic and International Studies): Well, you can't say that AIDS or malaria respect borders. These are global problems. And there is widespread recognition that they are priority issues, not just for moral reasons but also for economic reasons, because if a country is to be productive it must have a healthy workforce.

WILSON: And he says there's another strong element of political pressure on the G8. Not only will China and India be there, seven African leaders will participate in discussions on development.

Mr. DALE: Clearly, the leaders of the G8 are not going to want to look as if they're sending them away empty handed or dissatisfied.

WILSON: So, yes, global health will be up against, and likely overshadowed by, many other issues of importance. Among them climate change, the food crisis and rise in energy prices. But in this year's summit, there are powerful forces to back up earlier commitments to health. Brenda Wilson, NPR News.

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