Congress is in recess now. When it returns next week, the Senate ought to quickly approve a $50 billion health initiative that would provide life-saving care to the victims of HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis in Africa.
The money would reauthorize one of the few Bush administration programs that leaders of both major parties agree has been a success. In 2003, the president persuaded Congress to spend $15 billion over five years on these health problems. That bill expires at the end of September, after having helped more than 33 million people, including millions of children, and after having built tremendous good will toward the United States.
The Senate would have approved the new spending package, which also is spread over five years, before leaving Washington, except that a few key members, led by Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., are holdouts. They believe the expenditure is too high. Part of the increase is due to the program's expansion in the fights against malaria and tuberculosis. But both diseases have made disturbing inroads on the continent, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa.
Meanwhile, millions of Africans need anti-retroviral treatments that would allow them to resume normal lives and, in many cases, allow entire villages to thrive. It would keep millions of children from being orphaned. Ultimately, it would keep struggling nations from degenerating into chaos as family structures collapse.
President Bush has referred to what he calls the "Lazarus effect," in which villages seem to rise from the dead after the sick are treated. If the Senate approves this bill, President Bush could use it to persuade other nations to join the fight when he attends the upcoming G-8 summit.
HIV/AIDS has long been a scourge on the African continent. Its causes tend to revolve around ignorance and infidelity. Those are issues that need to be addressed. In the meantime, however, urgent help is needed to treat those already infected, including children. Republican leaders need to find ways to get DeMint and a few of his colleagues behind this important measure.