WASHINGTON President George W. Bush on Wednesday signed into law a big expansion of U.S. efforts to fight AIDS in Africa and elsewhere, warning that defeating this scourge requires an unprecedented investment over generations.
The measure, which won final congressional passage last week, calls for the United States to spend $48 billion over the next five years to help treat and prevent AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria in sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere.
The measure more than triples the $15 billion Congress initially funded for the first five years of the program, which began in 2003. It extends and expands an existing effort to bring life-extending drugs to people infected with the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, which causes AIDS.
It is considered one of Bush's foremost foreign policy achievements.
"Defeating HIV/AIDS once and for all will require an unprecedented investment over generations. But it is an investment that yields the best possible return -- saved lives," Bush said in a ceremony before signing the bill.
Bush initially asked for $30 billion to extend the program, but the Democratic-led Congress added $18 billion more. Some $39 billion of the money is to be used to fight AIDS, with $5 billion to fight malaria and $4 billion for tuberculosis.
It also lifts a policy in place since 1987 prohibiting HIV-infected foreigners from visiting the United States.
While the measure authorizes the United States to spend the money, lawmakers still need to pass separate appropriations legislation actually providing the money.
"Congress should make sure the program is fully funded on day one, since without the money we cannot save more lives," said Dr. Paul Zeitz, executive director of the Global AIDS Alliance. "Why is the Congress delaying? We cannot wait until 2010 to get these new programs moving."
Bush called it the largest commitment by any nation to combat a single disease in human history.
"Just a few years ago, HIV/AIDS raged out of control," Bush said. "Well, today the outlook is really different. HIV/AIDS is still one of the world's greatest humanitarian challenges, no question about it. But it is a challenge we're meeting."
A U.N report on Tuesday said U.S. and other efforts against AIDS were showing results, with AIDS deaths and new infections dropping in recent years. AIDS has killed more than 25 million people since being identified in the early 1980s.
"The generosity of the U.S. government has helped to truly transform the global response to AIDS and the course of the epidemic," said Dr. Peter Piot, head of the U.N. AIDS agency.
(Editing by Eric Walsh)