Secretary of State Colin Powell says the global campaign against AIDS is just as important to the United States as the war with Iraq or any other aspect of U.S. foreign policy.
"I can envision a day in this century when every man is free of tyranny and poverty," Powell told business leaders Wednesday. "This is a century of great potential promise, yet these promising trends that the United States and other democratic nations have supported can be reversed if AIDS is left to rage across the globe.
"President Bush has made the global effort to eradicate AIDS one of his highest foreign policy priorities," Powell told the Global Business Coalitions on HIV/AIDS at a Kennedy Center banquet.
Last month, Mr. Bush signed into law a $15 billion program to combat AIDS in poor countries in Africa and the Caribbean and said he would challenge other industrial democracies to boost their commitments.
Powell said "the United Kingdom, France and the European Union are meeting that challenge" by increasing their commitment to fight AIDS.
"Governments can't meet that challenge alone," Powell said. "It has to be done in partnership with businesses, faith-based institutions and other organizations."
Powell said "the HIV virus, like terrorism, kills indiscriminately. It is more destructive than any army, any conflict, any weapon of mass destruction."
He said the spread of AIDS "can destroy countries and destabilize entire regions" and noted it is spreading to parts of the world previously thought to be distant from the ravages of the disease.
Powell said nations facing the threat "will have to take their head out of the sand and deal with these problems."
Powell praised the work of the 114 companies involved in the Global Business Coalition for their efforts to educate those in their workforce about AIDS and to help their communities combat the disease.
The coalition honored two companies for their work in educating workers and communities about the threat of AIDS — Standard Chartered Bank, an international commercial bank that focuses on emerging markets, and Tata Steel, an Indian company.
The group also heard from Sens. Bill Frist, R-Tenn. and John Kerry, D-Mass., who have been leaders in Congress' efforts to increase investment in the fight against AIDS.
Frist told of the devastating effect he's seen AIDS have on families and entire communities, while Kerry said the destruction of a developing nation's economy and hope can be a fertile breeding ground for terrorism.
Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni told the group about his efforts to fight AIDS through frank communication about the causes of the disease and efforts to keep his economy healthy.
President Bush met with Museveni and has cited Uganda's efforts to fight the epidemic as a model for how increased U.S. aid against the disease should be spent.
Museveni told the business leaders in the group that if they support his economy and keep his citizens working they are helping fight AIDS in his country because people who are working are less likely to get the disease than those who are idle.