DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania (AP) — President Barack Obama says his appearance Tuesday in Africa with former President George W. Bush will give him a chance to thank Bush for one of the “crowning achievements” of the Republican’s administration, a U.S.-funded program to stop the spread of HIV and AIDS on the continent.
The White House said Monday that the two presidents will meet Tuesday in Dar es Salaam at a wreath-laying ceremony at the site of the deadly 1998 bombing of the U.S. Embassy that killed 11 people. The embassy has since relocated.
Obama arrived in Tanzania on Monday, the final leg of a three-country tour of Africa.
Bush, who has been active on African issues both in and out of office, coincidentally also planned to be in Dar es Salaam for a conference on African women sponsored by his institute.
Obama said the Bush program, the President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR, had saved the lives of millions by distributing anti-retroviral drugs throughout Africa.
“This is one of his crowning achievements,” Obama said at a news conference where he and Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete were asked to comment on the Bush meeting. “Because of the commitment of the Bush administration and the American people, millions of people’s lives have been saved.”
Obama also pushed back against suggestions that his administration has scaled back the program.
“The fact of the matter is is that we are serving four times the number of people today than we were when PEPFAR first began,” he said. “But because we’ve gotten better at it and more efficient at it we’re doing it at reduced costs.”
The dollars being saved, Obama said, are being spent on alleviating diseases such as tuberculosis and malaria “because HIV and AIDS are not the only diseases affecting people in Africa.”
The White House has said the U.S. will spend about $4.2 billion on PEPFAR funding this year, money that has been used to increase the number of people receiving anti-retroviral drugs and to prevent mother-to-child transmission of the virus.
“This indicates how timely the PEPFAR program was and the bipartisan support that it has received has been extraordinary and President Bush deserves enormous credit for that,” Obama said, “and so I’m looking forward to being able on African soil to once again thank him on behalf of the American people for showing how American generosity and foresight could end up making a real difference in people’s lives.”
Kikwete said having the two presidents together at the same time in Tanzania is “a blessing to this country.”
First lady Michelle Obama and former first lady Laura Bush also plan to appear together Tuesday to participate in a discussion at the conference on promoting women’s education, health and economic empowerment.
Obama and Bush last appeared together in public at the April dedication in Dallas of Bush’s presidential library.
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