Friday, May 16, 2003

Joanne Kenen

Senate passes sweeping global AIDS bill

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate early on Friday passed a $15 billion bill aimed at slowing the AIDS pandemic ravaging the world's poorest countries in what one senator called "the greatest humanitarian crisis in the 21st century."

The measure passed on a voice vote with broad bipartisan support, despite disagreement about some components. The House previously passed similar legislation. President Bush made the bill a priority in his State of the Union address this year.

At a time when AIDS kills one person every 10 seconds, the bill will make anti-viral treatment available to about 2 million HIV-infected people in Africa and the Caribbean who cannot afford the costly cocktail of drugs that can prolong and improve their lives.

It will also provide hospice care for the dying, help some of the 13 million children who have lost one or both parents, and intensify prevention programs through strategies like sexual abstinence education and promotion of condom use.

"Congress has given the hope of life to millions of people in countries most afflicted by AIDS," Bush said in a statement. "This historic legislation will enable us to provide critical treatment and care for millions who suffer, and greatly expand successful prevention programs to help those at risk."

The legislation will set a spending framework for $15 billion over five years but does not put any dollars in the pot. That must be done in Congress's annual appropriations bills.

"The real test… is whether we fund this promise. Unfortunately, the president's proposed budget for next year includes only slightly more than half of the $3 billion," warned Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, a South Dakota Democrat who called the bill "an historic but long overdue accomplishment."

"This is huge"

Hours after the Senate vote, representatives of a dozen groups that backed the legislation joined a news conference hosted by Sen. Mike DeWine, an Ohio Republican.

DeWine, who chairs the Global AIDS Working Group, said, "This is huge. We have never done anything like this before …. But this is only really the beginning."

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a Tennessee Republican and medical doctor who has made AIDS a signature issue, called HIV-AIDS "the greatest humanitarian crisis in the 21st century" and endorsed full funding at $3 billion a year for five years.

An amendment from Delaware Democrat Joseph Biden promoting support for greater debt relief in AIDS-stricken countries won bipartisan support amid promises the House would quickly adopt it so Bush could sign a final bill into law.

Bush wants to sign the bill before he attends a summit of industrial nations on June 1. With the legislation in hand, he hopes to spur other nations to step up their commitments.

Some 20 million to 25 million people have died of AIDS and at least 40 million more are infected with HIV, with Africa and the Caribbean having high rates of infection.

The AIDS initiative focuses principally on Botswana, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia, as well as Guyana and Haiti in the Caribbean.

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Created: January 13, 2004
Last modified: January 14, 2004
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