MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
NPR's Brenda Wilson has the story.
BRENDA WILSON: PEPFAR, as the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief is often called, was first announced by President Bush at his State of the Union address in 2003. At the time, it got a lot of good press for being one of the largest commitments by any government to a single disease. It wasn't all sweetness and light. Conservatives wanted part of the money set aside for programs that preach abstinence before marriage. And last night, in calling for a continuation of PEPFAR, which has paid for life-sustaining anti-AIDS drugs, the president also quietly asked Congress to maintain funding for abstinence prevention.
GEORGE W: I ask you to maintain the principles that have changed behavior and made this program a success. And I call on you to double our initial commitment to fighting HIV/AIDS by approving an additional $30 billion over the next five years.
WILSON: Stephen Morrison of the Center for Strategic and International Studies praised the president's proposal last night as a highlight of the Bush legacy.
STEPHEN MORRISON: It's calling for the enlargement to 2.5 million people of the numbers of persons who will be put on life-sustaining therapy for HIV/AIDS.
WILSON: In other words, nearly twice as many people with AIDS in developing countries as were covered before. What's more, Morrison says, the president's AIDS plan has helped preserve America's good standing in the world and restore a reputation that had been tarnished by Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and other events related to the war in Iraq.
MORRISON: The achievements in global public health centered in HIV/AIDS are a standout set of achievements in this period in which we've seen in the broader picture a dramatic slide and a need to really recover from that.
WILSON: But David Bryden of the Global AIDS Alliance, a frequent critic of the administration, says the president is playing tricks with the numbers. Sure, he is calling for $30 billion for the next five years, Bryden says, that's twice as much as he asked for in 2003. But Congress is already funding the global AIDS plan at that level.
DAVID BRYDEN: I think that it's really quite ironic that in the last year of his presidency, he's, in effect, pulling the rug out from under his own program by proposing that it be flat-funded for the next five years at a time when the epidemic is still expanding and when we really should be aspiring to expand our response to meet the needs of children who have really been left out.
WILSON: The U.S. isn't the only country contributing to AIDS relief. And the head of U.S. Global AIDS Program, Mark Dybul, says that President Bush has used the program to get the rest of the world to respond.
MARK DYBUL: But he took that commitment and went to the G8 and got them to commit to double it. So because of the American people's commitment, the world is now committed to $60 billion over the next several years.
WILSON: Brenda Wilson, NPR News.
NORRIS: And you can read NPR's fact-checking of the president's State of the Union comments on health care and other topics at npr.org.
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