Former President Clinton defends Bush on AIDS
8/15/2006 13:37:28 Reuters Alertnet

Former President Bill Clinton leaped to the defense of the Bush administration's AIDS efforts on Tuesday, saying the United States is spending more to fight HIV than any other government. Clinton joined Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates in praising President George W. Bush's President's Emergency Program for AIDS Relief, saying it has done more good than harm. Such support for the conservative Bush government was unexpected at the 16th International Conference on AIDS, a meeting held every two years where activists join researchers, funding agencies and aid groups to discuss the pandemic and, usually, denounce most governments for doing too little. Clinton, whose foundation negotiates cheaper prices for drugs and HIV tests in developing nations, said PEPFAR has done a lot of good, despite a requirement that 33 percent of prevention funding be spent on abstinence-only programs. Many aid groups complain the policy has taken cash away from programs that can help people. "If you take out the 30 percent of the money that has to be spent on that -- the other 70 percent is still a whopping amount of money and more money in federal aid than I think anybody else is getting," Clinton told a plenary session of the conference. That said, Clinton joined the majority of experts who say abstinence-only programs do not work. Better, he said, are programs that include abstinence counseling as part of a range of options. Other experts have noted that abstinence-only programs have little meaning in societies where young girls and women are forced into early marriage, forced to have sex, or raped. Clinton was less positive about a U.S. law requiring HIV/AIDS organizations that want PEPFAR funding to pledge to oppose commercial sex work. "I wish they would just amend the law and say 'we disapprove of prostitution but here's the money -- go save lives'," Clinton said. "They are people, too and they deserve the chance to be empowered to save their lives. To me it is a no-brainer." PEPFAR, which Bush unveiled in 2003, aims to spend $15 billion over five years in 15 target countries. It provides drugs to HIV patients, distributes condoms and funds programs run by many aid groups. Gates, whose Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation gave $500 million last week to the Global Fund to fight AIDS, praised the program in his speech opening the conference on Sunday, noting that many had been skeptical about it. "The President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief has done a great deal of good, and President Bush and his team deserve a lot of credit for it," Gates said. (For more stories related to the Toronto international AIDS Conference, please go to