A legacy of President George W. Bush will be that he saved 10 million lives around the world.
His critics ignore it, but name another president about whom one can say that with such certainty. It is what historians will say a decade from now looking back. Not bad for a president who leaves office with the lowest approval rating in recent memory.
The bottom line is: George Bush is a healer.
No president in history had made such a commitment against a single disease. Those words and the action that followed meant that instead of another 30 million people dying from HIV infections, maybe just another 20 million will.
But even I — who as physician in Africa had witnessed how this virus was hollowing out societies — did not predict the huge global impact this Bush commitment would have on generations to come.
In my annual medical mission trips to Africa during the Bush administration, I saw the cost of treatment for HIV with life-saving antiretrovirals (ARVs) drop from $4,000 a year to $125. The number of Africans on ARVs jumped from 50,000 to 2.1 million.
Our visits with villagers all over the country opened our eyes to how Bush’s five-year, $1.2 billion effort to combat malaria has provided 4 million insecticide-treated bed nets and 7 million life-saving drug therapies to vulnerable people. Yes, George Bush the healer.
Future historians will also note what today’s pundits ignore: total US government development aid to Africa quadrupled from $1.3 billion in 2001 to more than $5 billion in 2008. What’s more, the Bush administration doubled foreign aid worldwide over the past eight years. You have to go back to the Truman years to match that.
And the president revolutionized the way we give aid with the creation of the Millennium Challenge Corporation, now active in 35 countries. This $6.7 billion public-private partnership for the first time ties aid to accountability based on a country’s governing well, fighting corruption and commitment to economic freedoms.
Secondly, Bush healed abroad, but he also healed right here at home.
Before Bush acted, the nation’s 43 million seniors did not have affordable access to prescription drugs (the most powerful tool a doctor has to prevent and treat disease) through the Medicare program. Today, because of George Bush, they do.
Initially, conservatives howled because the prescription drug initiative “cost too much.” Liberals hated it because it involved the markets and competition. But today, 23 million seniors live healthier lives, Medicare drug spending has been 20 percent to 30 percent less than predicted for each of the past two years and seniors overwhelmingly give the program enthusiastic reviews.
And, in addition, the program is highly redistributive — giving advantages the poorest, introducing preventive care to Medicare, encouraging electronic prescribing and introducing chronic disease management. Who says Republicans can’t lead on heath reform?
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