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Bush promises Botswana help to fight AIDS

But in Washington, the House approves only two-thirds of the money for a global program.

By Associated Press
© St. Petersburg Times
published July 11, 2003

GABORONE, Botswana - President Bush pledged to the nation with the world's highest AIDS infection rate that it will have a strong partner in his administration in fighting the disease.

"You will not face this enemy alone," he said Thursday.

But even as he was delivering the pledge, his $15-billion, five-year AIDS program was being trimmed in Congress.

And U.S. officials said that even with aggressive prevention and treatment programs, like those in Botswana, progress in turning the tide against the disease has been excruciatingly slow.

More than 38 percent of Botswana's adult population is infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. And although Bush described Botswana as being in the forefront of African countries in dealing with the epidemic, the nation's infection rate has remained level since 2001.

"Botswana is directly confronting HIV/AIDS and taking bold steps to overcome this crisis," Bush said in a luncheon toast to Botswana's President Festus Mogae."We applaud your leadership."

Among other things, Mogae has set in motion a program to provide free AIDS medicines to all who need them. That program is paid for in part by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Bush's half-day visit was the third stop of a five-nation African tour. He has been to Senegal and South Africa and visits Uganda and Nigeria before returning to Washington this weekend.

Botswana, a landlocked Texas-size country in the southern tip of Africa, has been hailed as a model of good governance and development for the rest of the continent. In a meeting with Bush, the two leaders discussed U.S. trade and the war on terrorism.

Mogae has said AIDS has threatened his country's progress. AIDS, which has killed 17-million in sub-Saharan Africa, is "the deadliest enemy Africa has ever faced," Bush said.

In Washington on Thursday, however, the House moved to approve only two-thirds of the money available for the global HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment act Bush signed in May.

Rep. Jim Kolbe, R-Ariz., chairman of the House subcommittee in charge of foreign aid, predicted Congress would live up to its promise to spend $15-billion over five years. But he said spending $3-billion in the first year was unrealistic when the program was just getting off the ground.

Kolbe's House Appropriations foreign operations panel approved $1.43-billion for the budget year starting Oct. 1 to fight AIDS and other infectious diseases. Another spending bill on the House floor Thursday would add $644-million, bringing the total to just more than $2-billion, up about $500-million from this year.

Bush said his trip to Africa was meant to demonstrate "that we're not only a powerful nation, we're also a compassionate nation."

"The average citizen cares deeply about the fact that people are dying in record numbers because of HIV/AIDS," Bush said. "That's really the story that I want the people of Africa to hear and I want the people of America to know that I'm willing to take that story to this continent."

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