December 2, 2008
WASHINGTON (RNS) -- With less than two months left in office, President Bush was recognized Monday (Dec. 1) for his international efforts to effectively fight the spread of AIDS.
"No world leader has done more for world health than President George Bush," said California megachurch pastor Rick Warren on the 20th anniversary of World AIDS Day. "Literally millions of lives have been saved in the last five years."
Bush was awarded the first "International Medal of PEACE" by Warren, the pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif. The ceremony was part of the Saddleback Church Civil Forum on Global Health held here at the Newseum and focused on the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).
As of Sept. 30, the initiative has provided lifesaving antiretroviral treatments for more than 2.1 million people around the world with HIV/AIDS, including 2 million in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the White House.
The president proposed the program in January 2003 and has already put nearly $19 billion into funding for treatments, according to the White House. It was recently reauthorized by Congress in July, giving an additional $48 billion to ongoing efforts to combat the pandemic.
"We're a better nation when we save lives," Bush said. "I believe we can win a fight against anything when we put our minds to it."
Bush and first lady Laura Bush also participated in a candid discussion with Warren and his wife, Kay, about the global AIDS crisis and the president's AIDS program.
"I believe in...this principle -- to whom much is given, much is required," President Bush said, adding that if a president did not attempt to fight the disease, "you have frankly disgraced the office."
The "International Medal of PEACE" is given by the Global PEACE Coalition, a network of churches, businesses and individuals, organized by Warren and focused on solving humanitarian issues around the world.
It recognizes outstanding contributions to combat "five global giants recognized by the coalition, including pandemic diseases, extreme poverty, illiteracy, self-centered leadership and spiritual emptiness."
Founded in 1980 by Warren, Saddleback Church is one of the largest churches in the country, with an average weekly attendance of 22,000. In August, Warren hosted the Saddleback Civil Forum on the Presidency, discussing issues of faith and leadership with President-elect Barack Obama and his opponent, Sen. John McCain.
Bush credited Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, former speechwriter Michael Gerson, and U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator Mark Dybul for putting the AIDS initiative into action.
"I don't deserve an award. The people who make this policy work deserve the award," Bush said.
The audience of more than 200 saw video messages thanking Bush for his work from several political leaders and activists, including former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Rwandan President Paul Kagame, Bill Gates and the musician Bono.
Obama also addressed the group in a pre-recorded video message.
"I salute President Bush for his leadership in 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," the president-elect said. "In my administration, we will continue this critical work to address the crisis around the world."
Bush said the AIDS program, PEPFAR, is part of a larger "freedom agenda" of his administration and will be an integral part of his presidential library and policy center at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
The forum was held in lieu of the annual Global Summit on AIDS and the Church hosted at Saddleback in California for the last three years. The summit was designed to mobilize congregations around the world for the prevention and treatment of the disease.
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