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Bush requests more money for international AIDS fight

Story Highlights

• President asks Congress to triple funds for AIDS program to $45 billion
• He wants program extended from 5 years to 10
• First lady to travel to Africa and see anti-AIDS efforts there
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush asked Congress on Wednesday to triple the funding for his international AIDS initiative and extend the program an additional five years.

If approved, the move will add $30 billion in funding for the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, a five-year initiative which he announced in his State of the Union address in 2003.

"This level of assistance is unprecedented and the largest commitment by any nation to combat a single disease in human history," he said Wednesday. "This investment has yielded the best possible return: saved lives."

The funding request would more than double the number of people who can be treated, to 2.5 million from the 1.1 million currently treated by the program. The program aims to prevent 12 million new infections and care for more than 12 million people already suffering from AIDS.

"The scale of this effort is not measured in numbers," Bush said. "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."

The World Health Organization estimates that last year, there were 39.5 million people living with AIDS/HIV worldwide, including 2.3 million children under 15. Almost 25 million of those people live in sub-Saharan Africa, the WHO says.

Bush also announced an upcoming trip by first lady Laura Bush to four countries in Africa in late June. She will visit PEPFAR programs during the trip.

PEPFAR has come under some criticism for its requirement that part of the program emphasize abstinence education.

Congress requires that at least 33 percent of the money spent on prevention should go to abstinence-until-marriage programs.

Critics say there is little evidence that abstinence programs are as effective as other programs, such as condom-based prevention.

But at an international AIDS conference last summer, former president Bill Clinton said the program's positives outweigh the negatives.

"I think PEPFAR on balance has done a terrific amount of good," he said. "An abstinence-only program is going to fail. ... But it's a mistake to walk away from that message altogether."

He cited research showing abstinence programs delay the age of sexual activity, but do not necessarily decrease HIV transmission rates in the long run.

According to a White House fact sheet, PEPFAR is the largest international health initiative dedicated to a single disease. It supplies lifesaving anti-retroviral treatments to people in 15 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean, through bilateral programs with their governments, the fact sheet says.

CNN's Erika Dimmler contributed to this report.


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