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By Paula Wolfson
White House
01 December 2008

U.S. President George Bush says his presidential initiative to combat AIDS has met its goal of providing treatment to two million people in sub-Saharan Africa by the end of 2008. VOA's Paula Wolfson reports the announcement came at a ceremony in Washington marking the 20th World AIDS Day.

President George Bush (l) makes a statement with first lady Laura Bush on World AIDS Day, at the White House, 01 Dec 2008
President George Bush (l) makes a statement with first lady Laura Bush on World AIDS Day, at the White House, 01 Dec 2008
On this day, the front portico of the White House was decorated with a huge red ribbon - a battle ribbon in the fight against HIV/AIDS, which affects 33 million people around the world.

"The ribbon is a symbol of our resolve to confront HIV/AIDS and to affirm the matchless value of every life," President Bush said.

Standing near the giant AIDS symbol, President Bush spoke of the progress that has been made since 2003 when he launched the Presidential Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief - commonly known as PEPFAR.

"It's the largest international health initiative dedicated to a single disease," he said. "When we launched PEPFAR, our goal was to support treatment for two million people in five years. Today, I'm pleased to announce that we have exceeded that goal - early."

Later in the day, the president was honored for his work combating AIDS at a global health forum sponsored by one of the largest Christian ministries in America - the California-based Saddleback Church.

Since 1981 more than 25 million people around the world have died of AIDS. Researchers say only about one-third of the estimated 10 million people affected by the disease in developing and transitional countries receiving the drugs they need.

At the Saddleback Church forum, Mr. Bush talked about the factors that motivated him to launch PEPFAR. He said ignoring the pandemic would have been a disgrace to the high office he holds.

In a videotaped message on behalf of the people of Africa, Rwandan President Paul Kagame offered thanks.

"You have set a very high standard that we hope others shall follow," he said.

US President-elect Barack Obama delivers a videotaped message on World AIDS Day, 01 Dec. 2008
US President-elect Barack Obama delivers a videotaped message on World AIDS Day, 01 Dec. 2008
The gathering also heard a videotape message from President-elect Barack Obama, who vowed to continue the AIDS initiative.

"I salute President Bush for his leadership for crafting a plan for AIDS relief in Africa and backing it up with funding dedicated to saving lives and preventing the spread of the disease," he said. "And my administration will continue this critical work to address the crisis around the world."

Mr. Obama went on to stress that America must also renew its commitment to help those affected by AIDS in the United States, where about half a million people are affected. He said it is not enough for government to be involved - adding everyone must work together to combat the disease.

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