George W. Bush to return to D.C. to mark 20th anniversary of AIDS program

 

Former President George W. Bush will be making a rare visit to Washington, D.C., later this month to mark the 20th anniversary of his signature program to contain AIDS worldwide and to urge Congress to reauthorize it.

Bush, who will be accompanied by former first lady Laura Bush, will be joined on stage Feb. 24 by his former secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, and the former president of Tanzania, Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete, for a conversation at a Bush Institute event, PEPFAR at 20, commemorating the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. 2008. The current secretary of state, Antony Blinken, will speak virtually to honor PEPFAR’s anniversary. The event will also include discussions about what can and must be done to end HIV/AIDS as a global public health threat by 2030.

PEPFAR, which is overseen by the State Department, represents the largest commitment by any nation to address a single disease in the world. To date, PEPFAR funding has totaled over $100 billion. The State Department says that PEPFAR has saved 25 million lives by providing antiretroviral treatment to some 20 million people, enabling 5.5 million babies to be born HIV-free and providing HIV testing and prevention services. The public and private investments made through PEPFAR resulted in the expansion of health care systems that have helped countries confront other health care crises, too, including the coronavirus pandemic.

In his State of the Union address Tuesday night, President Joe Biden hailed Bush for his work on PEPFAR.

“He undertook a bipartisan effort through PEPFAR to transform the global fight against H.I.V./AIDS,” Mr. Biden said. “It’s been a huge success. He thought big, he thought large. He moved.” He went on to express the hope that that what worked for PEPFAR could be replicated: “I believe we can do the same thing with cancer.”

One of first lady Jill Biden’s guests for the address was U2 lead singer Bono, a longtime AIDS activist who is credited with helping build support for PEPFAR, working with Democrats and Republicans in Congress and famously winning over religious conservative Sen. Jesse Helms. The bill first passed with broad bipartisan support in 2003 and has been reauthorized three times. Bono’s presence served as both a reminder of bipartisan achievement — and of the need to reauthorize PEPFAR, since its funding expires at the end of the fiscal year, in September.