On Monday, Obama travels to Tanzania, where he could wind up face to face with Bush, whose visit will overlap with Obama’s there the next two days. Bush’s wife, Laura, will participate in a First Ladies Summit hosted by the George W. Bush Foundation, and first lady Michelle Obama also will participate. White House aides suggested Sunday that the two men could appear with each other, although they said no plans have been set. “There may be something. We’ll keep you updated,” deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said.
For Obama, the success of Bush’s program has proved a tad awkward, as he has been mindful to praise his predecessor even as he tries to push forward on his administration’s own plans for new programs based on private investment from U.S. businesses. Flying to South Africa from Senegal this weekend, Obama told reporters that Bush “deserves enormous credit” for the fight against HIV/AIDS, acknowledging that the program likely saved millions of lives.
In South Africa, the success was extraordinary. AIDS killed roughly 2.3 million in South Africa — once one of the worst-affected countries in the world — and orphaned about a million children there, according to the United Nations. Today, rates of infection have fallen to 30 percent, and nearly 2 million people are on antiretroviral drugs.
But AIDS advocates on Sunday said that Obama administration budget cuts that have slashed hundreds of millions of dollars from PEPFAR threaten to turn back years of progress in the fight against the AIDS epidemic. Last year, the administration unveiled a budget that reduces AIDS funding globally by roughly $214 million, the first time an American president has reduced the U.S. commitment to fighting the epidemic since it broke out in the 1980s during the Reagan administration.
Since 2010, funding for PEPFAR has fallen 12 percent, putting the program at its lowest funding level since 2007, Chris Collins, director of public policy at the Foundation for AIDS Research, wrote in an April editorial on the Huffington Post Web site. The administration has proposed an additional $50 million cut for 2014.