Melinda Gates praises Obama, Bush anti-AIDS efforts

Melinda Gates, wife of Microsoft founder Bill Gates and co-chairwoman of the Gates Foundation, praised President George W. Bush for his global health efforts and the Obama administration for continuing them.

Gates, in an interview with The Hill Wednesday, gave credit to President George W. Bush for enacting the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, more commonly known as PEPFAR. A Stanford University study found that PEPFAR efforts, concentrated in poorer countries with relative high HIV/AIDS rates, have cut the death toll from the HIV/AIDS by 10 percent and have saved 1 million lives.

"If we'd started at the beginning of 8 years ago and asked, 'Is PEPFAR going to happen?' I'm not sure you'd say, 'Yes,'" Gates said. "But it did happen, and it's been absolutely amazing."

She added that while the Bush administration deserves specific credit for PEPFAR, the Obama administration deserves credit for "being very open minded [and] saying we don't have to go back and reinvent the wheel."

The Bush administration spent $15 billion from 2003 to 2008 on PEPFAR. Congress reauthorized the program last year and plans to provide it with $48 billion through 2013.

Gates spoke to The Hill ahead of a visit to Washington next week. She and Bill Gates have scheduled a presentation Tuesday in which they'll highlight the success of efforts such as PEPFAR and The Global Fund, the public-private group that has targeted AIDS, tuberculosis  and malaria.

"There's proof on the ground of what's going on in terms of success in global health," she said.

Gates said that Congress and the administration should continue to provide large amounts of funding for global health, noting that it has increased from $1.5 billion in 2001 to $8 billion last year. But she urged lawmakers to focus more on efforts to reduce maternal and child deaths.

Gates, whose foundation focuses on healthcare, poverty, education and access to technology, said that she and her husband are giving their presentation in Washington because they want to make sure people with influence understand the effect of their efforts.

Gates wouldn't say what party she belonged to or whom she voted for in last year's presidential election.

"I'd tag us both as independents," Gates said. "We really do vote based as we see in a given year."