WASHINGTON -- With 2,000 babies infected each day by the AIDS virus, President Bush proposed spending $500 million over the next five years to stop HIV-infected women in Africa and the Caribbean from transmitting the disease.
Critics called the proposal "grossly underfinanced."
More than 2 million women carrying the AIDS virus give birth each year, and 90 percent of those pass it on to their young during pregnancy, childbirth or nursing. Bush chose this front in the war on the disease, and singled out 12 African and two Caribbean nations for his AIDS initiative.
"Medical science gives us the power to save these young lives. Conscience demands we do so," Bush said. He embraced the spending, part of which is already pending in Congress, a week before he is to attend a summit of the world's wealthiest nations. The meeting in Canada will focus on Africa.
White House officials said Bush's proposal was meant to soften criticism that the United States doesn't spend enough on such global initiatives.
Bush unveiled his proposal for the increased spending, mostly for anti-AIDS medications to be administered during pregnancy and after birth, in a Rose Garden ceremony. The United States would pay for the drugs, such as nevirapine, which blocks transmission of HIV to unborn children.
A second component of the program would improve health care delivery systems in the targeted countries.
The White House is tapping $200 million that both houses of Congress recently approved for global AIDS programs for the first installment of the $500 million proposal. Bush has requested nearly $1.1 billion for the worldwide AIDS fight for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1.
The announcement brought sharp criticism from several AIDS activist groups, including Act Up, which denounced the proposal as a "sham," demanded $2.5 billion in spending and said it would demonstrate outside a Washington fund-raiser Bush was headlining Wednesday night. The group complained that Bush was ignoring people who already have AIDS.
Act Up and others want the United States to contribute more to the United Nations-backed Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. The United States has pledged $500 million to that fund.
"The bodies won't stop piling up until Bush commits $2.5 billion in new money for HIV that prioritizes getting medicine into the hands of people with AIDS," said Asia Russell, an official with the AIDS advocacy group Health GAP.
The Global AIDS Alliance branded Bush's plan "grossly underfinanced." But Marc Isaac, director of public policy for the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, called Bush's focus on mothers and babies "appropriate and farsighted."
The president called his proposal "the first of this scale by any government anywhere."
Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., called Bush's proposal a "welcome development in the battle against global AIDS."
Kennedy and Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., introduced a broader bill Wednesday proposing to spend $500 million on prevention and treatment in 2003-2004 in unspecified countries threatened by AIDS epidemics.
The nations Bush targeted are Botswana, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mozambique, Rwanda, South Africa, Uganda, Guyana and Haiti. In 2003, the program would expand to Namibia, Nigeria, Tanzania and Zambia. White House officials said those countries were targeted because they have widespread AIDS problems and the infrastructure to accommodate U.S. efforts -- "the best bang for the buck," as one White House official put it.
Once all 12 African nations are brought into the program, the new effort will reach as many as 1 million women a year and cut mother-to-child transmission of the AIDS virus by up to 40 percent, the White House said.