WASHINGTON — President Bush was recognized on the 20th anniversary of World AIDS Day for his international efforts to fight the spread of AIDS.
“No world leader has done more for world health than President George Bush,” California megachurch pastor Rick Warren said. “Literally millions of lives have been saved in the last five years.”
Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., awarded Bush the first International Medal of PEACE. The ceremony was part of the Saddleback Church Civil Forum on Global Health held at the Washington, D.C., Newseum and focused on the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief — PEPFAR.
As of Sept. 30, the initiative had provided lifesaving antiretroviral treatments for more than 2.1 million people around the world with HIV/AIDS, including 2 million in sub-Saharan Africa, the White House reported.
The president proposed the program in January 2003 and already has put nearly $19 billion into funding for treatments, according to the White House. Congress reauthorized the program 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.”
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 videos thanking Bush from several political leaders and activists, including former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Rwandan President Paul Kagame, Bill Gates and Bono of the rock group U2.
President-elect 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,” he said. “In my administration, we will continue this critical work to address the crisis around the world.”