(Photo: REUTERS/Murad Sezer)
President Obama is announcing on Thursday the nation’s commitment to fighting AIDS worldwide with hopes of getting medication and making treatment accessible to more people. Former presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton are joining Obama at a World AIDS day event via satellite to approve of the administration’s plans to increase AIDS spending in the U.S. by an additional $50 million.
A program known as the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief helps support operations in 15 countries that focus on prevention and treatment in the world’s hardest hit regions, the majority being in Africa. Former President Bush started the program in 2003, setting aside $15 billion and in 2008 Congress increased that amount to $48 billion.
However, the Obama administration was quick to point out that the additional $50 million would not be added to the program’s bottom line, instead saying they hope to redirect the additional funds through savings and cost-cutting measures.
In announcing America’s renewed commitment to AIDS funding, President Obama levied criticism at other counties, specifically China, for not contributing to the worldwide epidemic.
Former President George W. Bush said that it was the responsibility of “wealthy nations” to continue funding the program he signed into law in 2003. “I understand we’re in tight budget times,” Bush said at a panel discussion on AIDS in Tanzania earlier this year. “There is no greater priority than living out the admonition, to whom much is given, much is required.”
In the U.S. alone, there are over 1.5 million HIV-positive pregnant women who officials are hoping to target with mediations in hopes they will not pass the virus to their newborn babies.
The Department of Health and Human Services will administer the program of which $35 million will be directed to state agencies that provide services to over 1.2 million Americans who are HIV-positive. Statistics show that over 50,000 new infections are reported each year.
Since the $50 million is already included in the HHS budget, officials said the president does not need congressional approval to redirect the money.
In the 30-plus years since the deadly virus was identified, millions have died and over 33 million people worldwide are carrying the disease. Although scientists are frantically searching for a cure, the focus now has turned to prevention and treatment.
Former Bush spokesman Tony Fratto applauded both Democrats and Republicans for their bipartisan approach to fighting AIDS.
“The only way to undermine this historic undertaking is if it becomes a partisan issue,” Fratto told The Associated Press. “The reasons a Barack Obama and a George W. Bush can support America’s leading role in addressing this disease may be very different, but what’s important is they’ve sought the same goal.”
The AIDS event is hosted by ONE Campaign and (RED) and is being held at George Washington University.