U2 frontman Bono praised President George W. Bush for saving up to 21 million lives through global health initiatives the 43rd president started while in office.
Bono was at the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas last week for the center’s Forum on Leadership, which included former House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, former Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, former Trump administration Deputy National Security Advisor Dina Powell, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Peter Pace, and Vice President Dick Cheney.
Bush awarded Bono the George W. Bush Medal for Distinguished Leadership for his work to combat poverty and HIV in Africa.
In his 2003 State of the Union address, Bush announced the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, as “seldom has history offered a greater opportunity to do so much for so many.”
“As our nation moves troops and builds alliances to make our world safer, we must also remember our calling, as a blessed country, is to make the world better,” Bush said then. “Today, on the continent of Africa, nearly 30 million people have the AIDS virus, including 3 million children under the age of 15. There are whole countries in Africa where more than one-third of the adult population carries the infection. More than 4 million require immediate drug treatment. Yet across that continent, only 50,000 AIDS victims — only 50,000 — are receiving the medicine they need.”
At the time, the cost for life-saving antiretroviral treatment had dropped from $12,000 a year to under $300 a year, “which places a tremendous possibility within our grasp,” Bush said.
Bush had asked Congress for $15 billion over the next five years to treat 2 million HIV patients and prevent 7 million new infections. That was the birth of the PEPFAR.
In a livestreamed conversation between the friends and fellow activists, Bono called the award a “huge honor” and said he slipped out of practice sessions for U2’s upcoming tour “to honor your leadership on the greatest health intervention in the history of medicine.”
“That’s what I’m not sure people understand: 13 million from PEPFAR, and if you add the Global Relief Fund, it’s probably been 21 million lives have been saved by this work that you began and led and I’m here to honor that,” Bono said.
Bush replied that PEPFAR “never would have made it out of Congress had you not been engaged — the first time I met you, you knew more statistics, like you were coming right out of the CIA.”
“Here’s the thing about Bono that people got to understand: I like to say he’s a real deal,” Bush added of Bono. “This is a guy who has got a huge heart, obviously a talent, but cares so much about the human condition that he spends an enormous amount of time and capital on saving lives.”
Bono called it a “ballsy move” from Bush “to pick a fight with this disease.”
Bono lauded late first lady Barbara Bush, who helped erase the stigma of AIDS by embracing patients and showing a jittery nation the virus couldn’t be spread through hugs, as “the mother of PEPFAR.”
“You were born of an AIDS activist, sir, and you became one,” Bono told the president.
Bush stressed that it’s “really important for our country to continue the effort … a lot of the countries where progress is being made still need our help.”
The president’s message to Congress on PEPFAR: “Do not let the program lapse.”
“Tackling a virus like this, if you’re not as fast or faster than the virus, it’s outrunning you. So all the progress that we made over the years can be undone,” Bono cautioned. “This was a moonshot, and you started something that was kind of ‘put America on the Moon’ in this regard, and I feel like we’re just about to land on the Moon, and right now with this administration, we have some problems because they’re talking about turning back. And I think we’ve got to be very hard-headed but making the argument for saving lives. It would be a very un-American thing to get all the way to the Moon and not put an American flag on it.”