US House approves $50 bn AIDS package


Washington : The US House of Representatives have approved a nearly $50 billion aid package to halt the spread of HIV/AIDS in the developing world over the next five years.

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The legislation, approved last week by the Senate and likely to be signed next week by President George W. Bush, also repeals a 15-year-old US law that bars HIV-positive visitors and immigrants from being granted visas to the US.

Legislators said lifting the formal ban would help restore the US reputation abroad and end a stigma that has existed around AIDS since the disease was first identified in the early 1980s.

The House of Representatives Thursday approved the bill by 303 to 115.

The bill extends and expands a $15 billion foreign aid programme that was first proposed by Bush and implemented in 2003, helping curb the AIDS epidemic as well as malaria and tuberculosis outbreaks that have swept across Africa.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino called the programme one of the “highest priorities” of the Bush administration.

“The bill will ensure that we are able to keep our commitments to replace disease and despair with healing and hope,” Perino said.

Howard Berman, who chairs the foreign relations committee in the lower House of Representatives, said the programme had already saved countless lives.

Its expansion “signals to the world” that the US would continue leading efforts to fight HIV.