Bush to Tout AIDS Program President Bush visits Africa for six days and will highlight one of the initiatives of which he's most proud — his administration's global AIDS initiative. President Bush is traveling to Benin, Tanzania, Rwanda, Ghana and Liberia.
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Bush to Tout AIDS Program

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Bush to Tout AIDS Program

Bush to Tout AIDS Program

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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

President Bush and Laura Bush arrived in Benin, Tanzania today. It is the second leg of a weeklong trip that will also take them to Rwanda, Ghana and Liberia. Mr. Bush will meet with African leaders to discuss security and economic development issues.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: We will invest in countries where leadership has made a firm commitment to some basic principles. Rule a law, fighting corruption, investment in people in health and education programs.

SIMON: One of those programs created early in his administration is Mr. Bush's ambitious AIDS emergency plan. It promised $15 billion in funding over five years to combat AIDS and other infectious diseases, mostly in Africa, and he's pledged to double that amount.

Laurie Garrett joins us from our New York bureau. She's senior fellow for Global Health of Counsel and Foreign Relations. Thanks so much for being with us.

Ms. LAURIE GARRETT (Senior Fellow for Global Health, Council on Foreign Relations): Thank you.

SIMON: When the president announced his plans State of the Union address in 2003, he said: Seldom has history offered a greater opportunity to do so much for so many. What has been done?

Ms. GARRETT: Well, quite a lot. I mean, almost 19 million, excuse me, billion has been spent and of that a substantial amount has gone directly to providing treatment for HIV infection to about 1.4 million people, mostly in Africa, though also in two Caribbean nations and Vietnam. And to a smaller degree contributions to the global fund to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria and therefore some malaria initiatives and tuberculosis initiatives through that route, I would say at this point the success stories, such as they are, are on the HIV and malaria side and the other programs are yet to prove themselves.

SIMON: Well, let's talk about the specific goals of the president's emergency plan for AIDS relief.

Ms. GARRETT: I think the easiest thing is to ask where do we stand today in terms of providing treatment to people with HIV infection in poor countries. Eight years ago it was estimated somewhere between one and two percent of the population that needed that treatment was getting it in poor countries. And today it's around 30 percent and about half of that should get credited to various funded initiatives from the United States government.

SIMON: I have to tell you, that's very impressive.

Ms. GARRETT: It is impressive. It's not without sources of criticism and there certainly some very loud critics of the president's emergency plan for AIDS relief, in particular, some of its little political provisos, such as promotion of abstinence. And that goes to something that's a lot harder to measure. And that is how many infections have actually been prevented.

The White House has their numbers, the activists have theirs, the countries have theirs, and I don't think there's any agreement whatsoever on those numbers.

SIMON: But I get back to that statistic that you've cited; that when these programs began maybe one or two percent were getting treatment, and now it's 30 percent.

Ms. GARRETT: Well, and it's a combination at 30 percent, not just of American money, but also of money from the French, the British, the Canadians, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. So all sources combine but certainly the president's emergency plan for AIDS relief has been the largest of all the programs.

If I could step back for a second, Scott, you know, many people ask the question, why did this happen in the first place? It's sort of like ask, you know, the old phrase we used to say only Nixon could go to China? Well, maybe only Bush could've pulled this off with the right coalition of forces behind him so that Congress and the Senate would support this scale of spending.

SIMON: Laurie Garrett, senior fellow for global health with the Council on Foreign Relations, author of "The Coming Plague" and "Betrayal of Trust: The Collapse of Global Public Health."

Thanks very much for being with us.

Ms. GARRETT: Thank you.

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