US President George W. Bush on Wednesday urged lawmakers to set aside 30 billion dollars over five years to fight AIDS worldwide, but AIDS activists said the proposal fell short of funds needed to battle the global scourge.
Bush also said that First Lady Laura Bush would visit Africa in June to assess HIV/AIDS-fighting strategies in Zambia, Mali, Senegal and Mozambique, and report back on what works and what does not in battling the deadly disease.
"She's going to meet with community leaders and visit with participants in HIV/AIDS programs during her trip to Zambia, Senegal, Mali, and Mozambique. And she's going to come back with her findings," the president said.
Bush urged the US Congress to renew and double his President's Emergency Program for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which has 15 billion dollars and is due to expire in September 2008.
"The generosity of the American people is one of the great untold stories of our time. Our citizens are offering comfort to millions who suffer and restoring hopes to those who feel forsaken," said Bush.
"Today, I ask Congress to demonstrate America's continuing commitment to fighting the scourge of HIV/AIDS by reauthorizing this legislation now," he said in the White House Rose Garden, surrounded by AIDS activists.
"I ask Congress to double our initial commitment and approve an additional 30 billion dollars for HIV/AIDS prevention for care and for treatment over the next five years," he said.
Bush said Washington would work with African governments, the private sector, and community groups around the world to focus the funds on treatment for some 2.5 million people, preventing some 12 million new infections, and care for 12 million more, including more than five million children.
The White House said that PEPFAR, as of March 31, had helped fund treatment for 1.1 million people in its focus countries -- Botswana, Cote d'Ivoire, Ethiopia, Guyana, Haiti, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Vietnam and Zambia.
The program pays for anti-retroviral treatment in the worst-hit countries, funds drugs for patients in the developing world and delivers medicine to pregnant women to prevent infections to newborns.
However, Paul Zeitz, director of the Global AIDS Alliance, said the proposal's fine print belies Bush's announcement.
"In fact, 30 billion dollars is about what the US is already on track to spend over the next five years even without the president's announcement," he said in a statement.
"The reality is that we are not even treading water as the tide of HIV/AIDS rapidly rises," Zeitz said.
He added that "the fine-print of today's proposal also shows a radical reduction in US support for HIV/AIDS treatment (domestically), even as the world is racing to meet the 2010 deadline of universal access."
Zeitz said with the United States providing treatment to 33 percent of those who need it currently, the Bush proposal would slash that funding to treat "only 2.5 million people, or about 20 percent of the 12 million people expected to need treatment in 2013."
At the end of last year, around 39.5 million people around the world were living with HIV or AIDS, according to UN figures.
Sub-saharan Africa remains by far the worst-affected region and is home to two-thirds of all people living with HIV.