Outside editorial: Fighting disease in Africa

Posted: Sunday, April 06, 2008

President Bush is going partway toward atoning for his sins in the Middle East by rebuilding Africa. His leadership in fighting disease and poverty on the continent culminated Wednesday with a breathtaking gesture from the House of Representatives, which took the president's generous proposal to spend $30 billion over five years fighting AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis around the world and upped it by $20 billion.

The $50-billion reauthorization for the president's anti-disease program, which is also expected to pass in the Senate, marks a dramatic shift in the United States' attitude toward foreign aid. This country has supported big international disease-eradication projects in the past, but never with such an enormous financial commitment. We'd like to think this reflects a realization that saving lives and rebuilding economies destroyed by disease is a better way to enhance global security and stability than dropping bombs on people.

The bill does come with a few flaws. The House bill says if a program spends less than half of its budget for preventing sexual transmission on abstinence efforts, it has to send a report to Congress justifying the decision. That could have a chilling effect on programs that would rather spend the money on condoms but don't want to risk having their funds cut off by conservative lawmakers.

Health experts in the field are better judges of the best way to prevent AIDS in a given country than Congress. The Senate should scrap the reporting requirement.



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