I disagreed with President Bush on any number of important issues, but I have enormous respect for his deep and principled commitment to fighting HIV/AIDS around the world and his abiding belief that caring for those in need is a fundamental American value. What’s more, Bush put his beliefs into action.
Under his leadership, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis and the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) were established, with bipartisan support in Congress. In less than a decade, these programs have delivered astonishing results, saving millions of lives around the world. Nearly 4 million men, women and children have received lifesaving antiretroviral treatment, and nearly half a million infants who otherwise would have faced lifelong battles with AIDS were born HIV-free. PEPFAR is providing care and support to nearly 13 million people worldwide, including more than 4 million orphans and vulnerable children.
These numbers are almost too big to comprehend, but every single person saved, along with family members, friends and neighbors, have now seen firsthand the power of the United States to do good in the world. In areas where poverty fuels desperation and terrorist organizations exploit the vulnerable, this is a powerful and indispensable message to deliver through a few small, inexpensive pills. Earlier this month, Bush wrote in the Wall Street Journal that “there is no effective way to oppose the enemies of freedom without also opposing the shared enemies of humankind — disease and poverty.” I couldn’t agree more.
To me, Bush’s true legacy is his leadership in the fight against AIDS and malaria. His presidency marked a turning point in the global fight against these diseases, so much so that President Obama remarked on this year’s World AIDS Day: “This is a global fight, and it’s one that America must continue to lead. Looking back at the history of HIV/AIDS, you’ll see that no other country has done more than this country, and that’s a testament to our leadership.”
In addition to being deeply compassionate and in America’s best interests, the Bush-era global health programs are efficient and effective. We have saved those millions of lives using just a small fraction of 1 percent of our federal budget. That’s truly a wise investment.
The problems we face in today’s complex world can seem overwhelming. And to be sure, in tough economic times where cutbacks are the norm, we have to pick our priorities carefully. But even if we can’t solve every problem in the world, we can conquer AIDS and malaria by continuing to put partisanship aside and working together.