Bush’s Admirable Legacy On Africa

Lancaster Online

Although George W. Bush’s overall legacy has been the subject of much debate in recent days, few can dispute his success in the fight against the spread of HIV/AIDS (and malaria) in Africa.

At the dedication of his presidential library in Dallas last week, Bush was highly praised for his work on Africa by four living presidents — three Democrats and one Republican (the elder Bush).

“Mr. President, let me say that I’m filled with admiration for you and deep gratitude for you about the great contributions you’ve made to the most needy people on earth,” said former president Jimmy Carter, who noted that aid to the African continent increased by more than 640 percent by the time Bush left office.

In 2003, Bush founded the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief — PEPFAR — which guaranteed at least $15 billion over five years for prevention, treatment and research on HIV/AIDS in several affected countries, including Africa.

At the time, fewer than 50,000 HIV-infected Africans were receiving the antiretroviral drugs that keep the virus in check. By the time Bush left office, nearly 2 million were receiving antiretroviral treatment, which not only extends the patient’s life but decreases the likelihood that he or she will pass the virus on to an uninfected person.

At last week’s dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Library, former president Bill Clinton said that, in his travels throughout Africa, he has “personally seen the faces” of some of the millions of people who are alive today because of Bush’s policies.

PEPFAR has had its share of controversy. Up to 20 percent of the money is being spent on abstinence-focused prevention programs, and the money is not used for needle-sharing programs. Both policies reflect Bush’s “compassionate conservative” views.

Still, PEPFAR’s results have been far-reaching and tangible.

Since leaving office, Bush and wife Laura have remained active in health issues in Africa, and have expanded their efforts to include cancer.

Bush’s legacy will be forever shaped by 9/11 and all that followed, and it may be years before we know where he truly ranks among the other 41 presidents.

But his success in helping turn the tide on HIV/AIDS cannot be denied, and should be celebrated.

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