WASHINGTON, April 29 (UPI) -- President George W. Bush on Tuesday unveiled an initiative intended to pump another $15 billion in the global fight against HIV/AIDS, as he fielded criticism that legislation did not focus enough on abstinence as a solution to the pandemic.
"Fighting AIDS on a global scale is a massive and complicated undertaking, yet this cause is rooted in the simplest of moral duties. When we see this kind of preventable suffering, when we see a plague leaving graves and orphans across a continent, we must act, " Bush said.
The president appeared in the East Room of the White House with lawmakers and global AIDS activists to promote the bill providing $15 billion to the global fund established to fight the deadly disease that has infected 42 million people worldwide.
The World Health Organization reports of that number 38.6 million were adults, and 2.3 million were children under age 15. Some 3.1 million people worldwide died of AIDS in 2002.
In sub-Saharan Africa, some 28.5 million adults are infected and 2.6 million children under age 15. The pandemic has captured the attention of the international community as it figures out how best to stop the spread of AIDS on the continent.
The president warned "time is not on our side" and urged Congress to move forward "with speed and seriousness his crisis requires."
Bush said the administration's health experts believe the emergency plan for AIDS relief could prevent 7 million new HIV infections and treat 2 million people with life-extending drugs.
The president did not mention criticism brewing over the details within the bill, but rather concentrated on the big picture of how the funding could help save lives.
The bill introduced by Rep. Henry J. Hyde, R-Ill., was approved by the House International Committee and may go before the full chamber for a vote later this week.
Princess Kasune Zulu of Zambia told United Press International that fighting AIDS in Africa would not be difficult if the resources are available. Zulu, along with her husband, visited with Bush prior to the East Room event. The couple tested positive for AIDS in 1997.
"It is possible to get the message out," Zulu said. "If you tell the young people that abstinence is best, they will listen." She said community outreach programs are effective.
Social conservatives and some congressional Republicans criticized the bill for not including more pro-family amendments that would promote programs that teach abstinence and fidelity rather than only condom use.
Ken Conner, president of the Family Research Council, a conservative social justice organization, said the White House "knocked the legs out from under conservative congressional members working to repair the flawed $15 billion AIDS bill."
"It appears again the White House is so eager for the photo-op of a Rose Garden bill signing ceremony that it will accept deeply flawed legislation even though it does not embody the principles the president himself laid out, " Conner said.
Conner said the bill in its present from would throw taxpayer money at "condom handout schemes" in Africa.
"By signaling that President Bush will sign the bill 'as is,' the White House probably has made it much more difficult to pass amendments which would focus U.S. efforts on abstinence and monogamy, or which would limit funding to the U.N.'s disastrous Global AIDS Fund and other anti-family organizations," Conner said.
Critics charge the over-reliance on condoms that characterizes these programs is not without its drawbacks as well, while the accompanying "safe sex" message creates a false sense of security that may encourage promiscuous behavior. New studies show that the condom does not provide absolute protection against HIV.
Michael Schwartz, vice president for government relations for Concerned Women for America, said the bill provides no conscious protections for faith-based groups. Schwartz told UPI that groups seeking to teach abstinence would have to also pass out condoms even if it were against their mission.
"We are quite sure that Congress must clearly outline the president's purpose within the bill. Without a clear mandate, future administrations will be able to use AIDS prevention dollars for ineffective condom based programs, rather than lifesaving ones based on abstinence and faithfulness," Schwartz said.
Bush, Schwartz and social conservatives point to the Uganda model as a successful blueprint for battling AIDS in Africa. That model which is included in the Hyde bill stresses the "ABC" behavioral approach -- "abstinence," "be faithful" and use "condoms."
"(Ugandan) President (Yoweri Kaguta) Museveni has begun a comprehensive program in 1986 with a prevention strategy emphasizing abstinence and marital fidelity as well as condoms to prevent HIV transmission. The results are encouraging. The age infection rate in Uganda has fallen dramatically since 1990," Bush said. " ... Congress should make the Ugandan approach the model for our prevention efforts under the emergency plan."
Zulu said the AIDS prevention strategy used by the Ugandan Health Ministry significantly reduced the infection rates. Schwartz said the Uganda model is more effective than what he called the "San Francisco model, or the social marketing of condoms."
The White House responded to social critics' assertions that the legislation would not be effective because it failed to sufficiently promote abstinence, saying that it is a moral calling for America to aid Africa in the fight against AIDS.
The United States first pumped $200 million in seed money for the start-up of the global AIDS fund two years ago. In outlining the global fund and its use, Bush said that nations would need to agree on partnerships with private corporations and faith-based groups, a program with a proven track record of success and that emphasizes prevention and includes training of medical personnel as well as treatment and care of those affected.