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The United States government has announced a new funding package of US$500 million specifically to help prevent the transmission of HIV from mothers to their babies in African and Caribbean countries.

The funds — which are in addition to a similar amount pledged by the United States to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria — will be used to distribute drugs and improve healthcare delivery systems in some of the world's poorest countries.

"This new effort, which will be funded during the next 16 months, will allow us to treat one million women annually, and reduce mother-to-child transmission by 40 per cent within five years or less in target countries," US President George W. Bush said in a speech in Washington DC yesterday (19 June).

The package aims to prevent infection of 146,000 children in the African countries of Botswana, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mozambique, Rwanda, South Africa, Uganda, Namibia, Nigeria, Tanzania and Zambia, as well as in the Caribbean nations of Guyana and Haiti.

But some AIDS activists have said that the plan does not go far enough. Paul Zeitz, executive director of the Global AIDS Alliance, an international group of non-governmental organisations, criticised President Bush for his "lack of vision" at proposing a "narrowly focussed and grossly under-financed plan."

"What's really needed now from the United States is not merely support for mother-to-child transmission programmes, but also support for cost-effective and comprehensive prevention, care and treatment programmes," he said.

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