US President George W Bush today said that Congress should renew his global Aids programme and preserve a requirement that steers money into abstinence efforts.
“We don’t want people guessing on the continent of Africa whether the generosity of the American people will continue,” Bush said in Tanzania, the second stop of his African trip.
Congress, in fact, strongly backs the programme, which is credited with getting medicine and preventive treatment to millions of people – most of them in sub-Saharan Africa. Yet its renewal has been stymied over ideology and political debate about disease prevention.
Some Democrats want to eliminate a provision in the bill that requires one-third of all prevention spending go to abstinence-until-marriage programmes. Critics say that while they don’t oppose abstinence programmes, the inflexible requirement hampers the effort.
Bush said the time for debate is over, and that those seeking changes on both ends of the political spectrum should “stop the squabbling”,
The President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief, or PEPFAR, expires this year.
“My attitude toward Congress is, see what works,” Bush said. “PEPFAR is working. It is a balanced program. It is an ABC programme – abstinence, be faithful and condoms. It is a programme that’s been proven effective.”
Tanzania is one of the countries targeted by Bush’s emergency Aids relief effort; more than two-thirds of all people infected with HIV live in sub-Saharan Africa.
Standing with Bush in Dar es Salaam, Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete thanked US lawmakers for the programme, but also prodded them to keep it moving.
“If this programme is discontinued or disrupted, there will be so many people who will lose hope,” he said.
Bush is pushing to renew the program at $30bn (€20.4bn) over five years, double his original commitment. Congress has put more than $18bn (€12.2bn) into it so far. It is the largest effort to ever target an infectious disease.
Bush, nearing the end of a presidency dominated by the war in Iraq, is targeting disease and poverty in his visits to five African nations. The president and first lady, Laura Bush, began their African trip in Benin in West Africa, then flew to the east coast of the continent to Tanzania. He also plans to visit Rwanda, Ghana and Liberia.
Unlike in the US, where his approval rating hovers near his record lows, Bush is treated here with reverence. A crowd of people, some wearing clothing bearing Bush’s image, waved tiny US and Tanzanian flags to welcome him as he walked down a red carpet toward the State House.
Bush signed a $700m (€476m) aid pact with Kikwete to help Tanzania build up its infrastructure. It’s the largest deal under a Bush programme that offers economic aid to countries that treat their people fairly, rule justly and root out corruption.
“I’ll just put it bluntly, America doesn’t want to spend money on people who steal the money from the people,” Bush said. “We like dealing with honest people, and compassionate people. We want our money to go to help human condition and to lift human lives as well as fighting corruption in marketplace economies.”