Graham, Warren Praise Bush's $30B AIDS Push

Correction appended

WASHINGTON – Evangelist Franklin Graham and "Purpose Driven" pastor Rick Warren are among those applauding President Bush's push for $30 billion to fight AIDS in Africa over five years.

The fund request on Wednesday is double the current program amount and would help treat an additional 1.4 million people if approved by Congress.

"I applaud President Bush's bold initiative to double America's funding in the global fight against HIV/AIDS," said Franklin Graham, president and CEO of Samaritan's Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, in a statement.

He recalled how the Bush administration "led the world in attacking" the HIV/AIDS pandemic when it launched the $15 billion initiative called the U.S. President's Emergency Program for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) in 2003.

"That is why I am encouraged by this new request for $30 billion – so the increased support can begin as soon as possible and continue well beyond this President's term," added Graham, whose ministry, Samaritan's Purse, had convened religious leaders worldwide for a conference on HIV/AIDS in 2002.

Bush's request for AIDS fund comes as the original five-year program commitment of $15 billion nears expiration in September 2008. The president is asking Congress to renew it.

"When I took office, an HIV diagnosis in Africa's poorest communities was usually a death sentence. Parents watched their babies die needlessly because local clinics lacked effective treatments," Bush said in the Rose Garden, according to Reuters.

"Despairing families who had lost everything to AIDS started to believe that they had been cursed by the Almighty God," Bush added.

However, the $30 billion program would provide treatment for 2.5 million people, prevention of more than 12 million new infections, and care for over 12 million people - including 5 million orphans and children.

"The scale of this effort is not measured in numbers," Bush said, according to CNN. "This is really a story of the human spirit and the goodness of human hearts. Once again the generosity of the American people is one of the great untold stories of our time. Our citizens are offering comfort to millions who suffer and restoring hope to those who feel forsaken."

More specifically, the initiative would fund anti-retroviral treatment for those in the 15 "target countries," drugs for patients elsewhere in the developing world, and deliver medicine to pregnant women to prevent infections to newborns, according to Agence France-Presse.

The program focuses on 15 countries – 12 in Africa, and Vietnam, Haiti and Guyana.

"The President's determination to help those suffering from HIV/AIDS is a compassionate, bold, and forward-thinking act of leadership that will save millions of lives," said Rick and Kay Warren of Saddleback Church HIV/AIDS Initiative, in a released response. Saddleback hosted the first church-based conference on HIV/AIDS in 2005.

"As the largest commitment of any nation in history to fight a single disease, this challenge represents the compassion and unselfishness of America at its best," the Warrens added. "The President reminded us in his announcement that to whom much is give, much is required. We have been blessed to be a blessing."

The program also provides nearly seven percent of its funding to abstinence education, drawing criticism, according to the Washington Post. Abstinence education has lately come under heavy criticism after a recent report claimed to show evidence that the nation's abstinence-only program was a failure. Democratic leaders earlier this month had held up the report and said they plan to let a multi-million abstinence program expire on June 30.

Around 39.5 million people are living with HIV or AIDS, according to the World Health Organization's estimate last year. Sub-Saharan Africa is the worst-hit region in the world containing two-thirds of all people living with HIV.

Next month, First Lady Laura Bush will visit four African countries – Zambia, Mali, Mozambique and Senegal – that have profited from the U.S. AIDS program and report to the president on her findings.

 Correction:  Thursday, May 31, 2007:

An article on Thursday, May 31, 2007, about President Bush's proposal for a $30 billion AIDS initiative incorrectly reported the expiration date of a multi-million abstinence program. The program, Title V, will expire on June 30 not June 3.