Wednesday, December 1 is World AIDS day, recognized across the globe as a time to increase awareness, encourage prevention and challenge prejudice of the worst viral affliction in recent history, and if there’s one man who should be praised for his commitment to combating AIDS, it’s George W. Bush.
In fact, liberal newspapers such as the Boston Globe and New York Times agree, suggesting that Bush’s commitment to helping AIDS victims in Africa will emerge as a big part of his presidential legacy.
Even New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof opined last year that the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS (PEPFAR) -- Mr. Bush’s $15 billion HIV/AIDS worldwide initiative -- was “the single best thing [Bush] has done in his life.”
In 2009, former Senate Majority leader Bill Frist wrote that, “No president in history had made such a commitment against a single disease . . . in my annual medical trips to Africa during the Bush administration, I saw the cost of treatment for HIV with life-saving antiretrovirals (ARVs) drop from $4,000 a year to $125. The number of Africans on ARVs jumped from 50,000 to 2.1 million.”
PEPFAR not only provided antiretroviral therapy to AIDS victims, it funded medical professionals to treat other illnesses and helped prevent mother-to-child transmission, while also prioritizing women and children who were victims of rape and sex trafficking.
According to Frist, Bush’s PEPFAR initiative may have saved as many as 10 million lives.
When I saw President Bush speak at the Miami Book Fair last month about his new memoir, “Decision Points,” he told a small audience that his reasons for PEPFAR were two-fold. The first reason was to enhance the national security of the United States because, according to the president, when America helps other countries it creates allies instead of enemies.
The second reason was, “to alleviate human suffering and show compassion because it was the right thing to do.”
That’s because the underlying criteria for many of Mr. Bush’s presidential decisions was making the world a better place, not just for Americans, but for the entire human race.
In fact, before he left the White House, President Bush renewed PEPFAR in July 2008 -- which tripled the original act’s funds to $48 billion and even expanded the legislation’s aim to combating malaria as well.
As a result of Bush’s mission to prevent AIDS in Africa, the U.S. was able to expand its overall human rights role there, condemning the killings in Darfur as “genocide,” and proactively discouraging regional conflicts in other African countries.
According to Frist, “the bottom line is George Bush is a healer.”
Last year, during an interview I conducted with Neil Bush, the president’s brother told me, “I’ve been to Africa frequently over the past 3 to 4 years and have seen the kind of impact that my brother’s commitment has had. I’ve also heard first-hand from African leaders the appreciation they have for everything my brother did to help the continent. His impact on Africa -- including his focus on eradicating the AIDS epidemic -- is one of the lesser known achievements of George’s presidency, but will eventually be recognized as an important part of his legacy.”
Neil Bush was correct – eradicating the AIDS epidemic is finally being recognized as an important part of the president’s legacy – as it should be.
The most effective way to continue President Bush’s commitment to “eradicating the AIDS epidemic,” is to do exactly what the president suggested, and continue to “alleviate human suffering and show compassion.”
The most effective way to do that is to continue to support PEPFAR styled initiatives and ensure that the United States continues to lead the world in a global effort to help AIDS victims. If America leads that effort, others will follow.
As Frist explained in 2009, after PEPFAR was passed, “If you were dealing with the United States, you’d better have made HIV a national priority, because we had.”
The world has George W. Bush to thank for setting a national example on behalf of the United States of America. Helping others, especially those who are suffering is and always will be President Bush’s legacy.
Jeffrey Scott Shapiro is a former Washington, D.C. prosecutor who served on U.S. Senator John Kerry’s presidential election legal team in 2004. He is now the national organizer of “Honor Freedom,” a non-profit foundation that promotes George W. Bush’s foreign policy doctrine.