04 April 2008

US gives $50 billion to HIV fight

The White House has welcomed moves by US lawmakers to triple funding to combat HIV and Aids worldwide to some 50 billion dollars, saying it could help save millions of lives.

The White House has welcomed moves by US lawmakers to triple funding to combat HIV and Aids worldwide to some 50 billion dollars, saying it could help save millions of lives.

President George W. Bush wanted to "thank the members of Congress who supported this legislation," the White House said in a statement.

The bill, which boosts an existing program first launched by Bush in 2003, was overwhelmingly approved by 306 votes to 116 by the House of Representatives in a bipartisan effort. It is set to sail through the Senate.

The new bill would boost funding for the US Global Leadership Against HIV/Aids, tuberculosis, and malaria from its initial 15 billion dollars over five years to 50 billion over the next five years.

Programme already helped 7m people
"As a direct result of the extraordinarily successful law we passed five years ago, the United States has provided life-saving drugs to nearly 1.5 million men, women and children," Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Howard Berman said.

He added in a statement that the programme had helped provide care for another seven million people, including 2.7 million orphans and vulnerable children, and had "prevented an estimated 150 000 infant infections around the world."

The proposed funds are more than Bush had called for during a trip to Africa in February when he urged Congress to double the financing to 30 billion dollars. But the new legislation also strips from the earlier program a requirement that a third of the funds be spent on controversial programmes to promote abstinence.

Bush has insisted that his so-called "ABC" strategy - abstinence, be faithful, use condoms - is working, and the White House said that thanks to this approach the programme "is saving lives and helping to prevent the spread of this horrible epidemic."

Children the main focus
The extra funds will be used to boost help for women and girls, and seek to shore up the health systems in countries worst hit by the HIV virus, Berman said. An estimated 33.2 million people around the world are said to be living with Aids with some 2.1 million deaths registered in 2007, according to the UN.

A new joint WHO and UN report said more than two million children worldwide were living with the HIV virus in 2007, most of whom were infected before they were born.

"Today's children and young people have never known a world free of Aids," said UNICEF executive director Ann Veneman. "Children must be at the heart of the global Aids agenda."

Berman said: "The 2003 legislation firmly established the United States as the leading provider in the world of HIV/Aids assistance for prevention, treatment and care."

TB and malaria also on agenda
Malaria remains the number one cause of death among children under five in Africa. The World Health Organisation estimates that 1.2 million people die of the disease every year, mostly children. WHO has also warned that more new tuberculosis cases are slipping through the detection net, as countries fail to keep up with rapid progress made in earlier years.

In 2006, some 9.2 million new cases of TB were detected compared to 9.1 million in 2005, said the WHO in its annual report on TB control.

But it estimated that, including non-detected cases, there were 14.4 million cases of the disease worldwide in 2006. Berman, who led an effort to win over some wary Republicans in the House who argued the funding was too expensive, lauded the programme.

It had "reminded the global community that Americans are a compassionate and generous people, and so has helped to repair our nation's badly-damaged image overseas. In many ways, that legislation has had great healing power," he said. – (Sapa)

April 2008

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Dr Sindisiwe van Zyl qualified at the University of Pretoria in 2005. She is a patients' rights activist and loves using social media to teach about HIV. She is in private practice in Johannesburg.

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