Early in my first term, it became clear that much of sub-Saharan Africa was on the verge of catastrophe. In some nations perhaps a quarter of the population was infected with HIV. The disease was prevalent among teachers, nurses, factory workers, farmers, civil servants – the very people who make a society run. Drugs to treat the disease existed and were falling in price, but they could hardly be found in Africa. Whole countries were living in the shadow of death, making it difficult for them to plan or prepare for the future.
Our response began with an effort to reduce mother-to-child transmission of the virus – the saddest, most preventable aspect of the crisis. In 2002, America helped found the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria to encourage the concerted action of wealthy nations. In 2003, I announced the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), an ambitious bilateral program to confront the worst of the pandemic with speed and urgency. Members of Congress from both parties, leaders of African nations and outside advocates such as Bono became partners with my administration in a tremendous undertaking.
In all of these efforts, my concern was results. I was frankly skeptical of some past foreign assistance programs. In this crisis, we needed not only more resources but also to use them differently. So we put in place a unified command structure; set clear, ambitious, measurable goals; insisted on accountability; and made sure that host governments took leadership and responsibility. The results came more quickly than many of us expected. Early in 2003, there were perhaps 50,000 people in sub-Saharan Africa on AIDS treatment. Today, thanks to America, other donor nations and the tireless work of Africans themselves, nearly 4 million are. Fragile nations have been stabilized, making progress possible in other areas of development.
I wonder if any of our readers that currently or in the past were obsessed with their hatred of George W. Bush would care to comment?
But the most vivid results, for me, had a more human scale. On World AIDS Day in 2005, two young children from South Africa, Emily and Lewis, came for a White House visit. They chased around the Oval Office before Emily did what many others no doubt wanted to do – she fell asleep in her mother’s lap during my speech. Both young children were HIV-positive but had begun treatment. I could not even imagine all that curiosity and energy still and silent.
George Bush was and is what he sold himself as – a compassionate conservative. What the heck is Barack Obama?
Bush’s advice to Congress:
I am happily out of the political business. But I can offer some friendly advice to members of Congress, new and old. A thousand pressing issues come with each day. But there are only a few that you will want to talk about in retirement with your children. The continuing fight against global AIDS is something for which America will be remembered. And you will never regret the part you take.