President George W. Bush and first daughter Jenna Bush both promoted AIDS care at churches last week to commemorate World AIDS Day.
Jenna Bush, author of Ana's Story, headlined the first-ever HIV/AIDS Youth Summit at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., Saturday on World AIDS Day. Bush shared her experiences of working with UNICEF in Panama as detailed in Ana's Story. The new book relates the story of a young 17-year-old single mother, Ana, who was infected with HIV at birth and has since lived a life filled with abuse.
"She [Ana] wanted me to tell you that if you know someone, a child, facing similar hardships that Ana faces, you should tell them they are not alone and it is okay to get the help they need to keep themselves safe," Bush told summit attendants.
Every day, some 1,000 babies are born with HIV - 90 percent of which are babies born in Africa, according to UNAIDS. Half of all new HIV infections in the world occur in children and youth. In total, 2.5 million children under the age of 15 are infected in the world.
"You are probably asking yourself how can I make a difference, what can I possibly do," Bush said. "Often it's the smallest gesture of kindness that makes a huge difference.
"First, get educated on HIV/AIDS and know the difference between myths and facts. Then start a dialogue with your friends and families and at school. But the most important thing you can do is to protect yourself and others," advised the first daughter.
More than 5,000 teens participated in the Youth Summit which was beamed to 200 locations in 35 states and Canada via satellite. The summit was co-hosted by "Purpose Driven" Pastor Rick Warren and his wife Kay.
On the other side of the country, President Bush was busy stressing the role of faith-based groups in the fight against AIDS.
Bush spoke at Calvary United Methodist Church in Mount Airy, Md., after meeting with religious and community groups on Friday, the eve of World AIDS Day.
"Faith-based groups like these are the foot soldiers in the armies of compassion," Bush said, according to CNN. "They are helping to defeat this epidemic one soul at a time."
In 2003, Bush created the U.S. President's Emergency Program for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which provides $15 billion to fight AIDS in Africa over five years. The president requested in May an additional $15 billion, or $30 billion total, for renewal of the AIDS initiative after the program expires in September 2008.
The White House says the program – which targets the hardest hit countries – has treated more than 1.3 million people with AIDS. The increased funding will boost the number to 2.5 million people and expand AIDS prevention programs and care for millions more with AIDS, according to CNN.
"Now the time has come for the United States Congress to act again," Bush said, referring to his AIDS funding request. "I'm confident they will."
Despite some successes, PEPFAR has been criticized by opponents for requiring participating groups to emphasize abstinence.
More than 33 million people worldwide have HIV, the virus which can lead to AIDS, according to the latest U.N. report. Over 2 million people have died of AIDS this year alone – including 330,000 children.