Fri, Jun 25, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Bush urges use of condoms based on Uganda experience

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , PHILADELPHIA

US President George W. Bush said for the first time on Wednesday that the US should "learn from the experience" of countries like Uganda in fighting AIDS and embrace the use of condoms to prevent its spread, a sensitive issue among conservative groups that have fought the adoption of any strategy that does not focus on abstinence.

Announcing some modest changes to government financing for antiretroviral drugs in front of a church-affiliated group in Philadelphia, Bush also argued for abstinence. But in his comments, he appeared to be offering something to both sides in the debate: His base of social conservatives as well as moderates in key states, who have complained that Bush has been too slow to embrace effective methods of preventing the disease.

"We can learn from the experiences of other countries when it comes to a good program to prevent the spread of AIDS, like the nation of Uganda," Bush said. "They've started what they call the ABC approach to prevention of this deadly disease. That stands for: Abstain, be faithful in marriage, and, when appropriate, use condoms."

The approach was working and was a "practical, balanced and moral message," Bush said.

He was quick to add that "in addition to other kinds of prevention, we need to tell our children that abstinence is the only certain way to avoid contracting HIV."

As audience members shouted "Yes!" in response to his words, he said. "It works every time."

Cries of "Every time!" and "That's for sure!" answered from the pews.

Uganda has used the ABC approach for years, but it did not originate there, as it is simply a mnemonic used by AIDS educators in many English-speaking countries. But Uganda's success in driving down new infection rates has drawn attention.

The program that the president visited here on his way to a private lunch with supporters in a wealthy corner of the suburb of Villanova is the charitable operation of the Greater Exodus Baptist Church, a predominantly black congregation.

The pastor, the Reverend Herbert Lusk II, a former professional football player for the Philadelphia Eagles, is a longtime supporter of the president.

Bush used the event to urge Congress to speed up financing of his plan to spend US$15 billion over five years to fight AIDS. He also announced that Vietnam would be added to the list of 15 countries receiving the money, making it the first Asian nation on the list.

Nonetheless, some activist groups have accused the Bush administration of doing too little -- the fight against AIDS needs at least US$30 billion over five years, they argue, and the money could be spent more quickly. They also accuse the administration of wasting taxpayer dollars on expensive brand-name drugs from big pharmaceutical companies with powerful lobbies.

Bush has mentioned condom use at least once before: Last July, in Entebbe, Uganda, on his trip to Africa.

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