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Bush Asks For More AIDS Money

The Wall Street Journal online edition; news, media, newspaper, web journalism
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President Bush said Friday he would ask Congress for a 7 percent hike in the money the United States spends to fight AIDS in what he called "a massive attempt to save lives."

The spending request Mr. Bush is sending lawmakers on Monday for the 2004 budget year will include $16 billion for the prevention and treatment of AIDS domestically, the president said. Included are a $93 million increase for AIDS research and an extra $100 million for a program that pays for AIDS drugs for people lacking health coverage.

Mr. Bush has faced criticism from AIDS activists for what they call his lack of attention to the disease.

Earlier, the president announced plans to speed a new test for the AIDS virus into use. The test yields results in roughly 20 minutes, compared to the week it takes for other methods currently in use.

Speaking to AIDS experts at the White House, Mr. Bush said the Department of Health and Human Services had waived regulations so that the new test can be made available to doctors and public health facilities.

"How can you treat if you don't test? How can you help if you don't know?" the president said.

AIDS experts say the test is so easy to use it is expected to greatly cut the number of people who unknowingly carry and spread the disease — in part by encouraging more people to get tested. With today's routine tests taking up to two weeks to provide results, at least 8,000 people a year who test positive at public clinics never return to get the news.

The new test is performed on a fingerstick sample of blood. Studies show it has an accuracy of 99.6 percent. Unlike other HIV tests, it can be stored at room temperature, requires no special equipment and can be used outside of traditional laboratory or clinical settings.

The White House said it is thought that more than 200,000 Americans are currently infected with HIV but don't know it.

"This country needs to provide some hope," the president said, "because this disease can be prevented and it can be treated, that's important for our fellow citizens to know."

In his State of the Union speech on Tuesday, he promised a $15 billion crash program to fight AIDS in Africa, where it's estimated that 30 million people carry the virus.

He called the money a "work of mercy" that would save millions of Africans.