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On World AIDS Day, Bush Touts His Relief Program

"I believe America has a unique ability, and a special calling, to fight this disease," President Bush told U.S. officials and African ambassadors. (By Jason Reed -- Reuters)

"The Bush White House has talked a big game on fighting AIDS, but has consistently shortchanged the president's initiatives and stood in the way of important global efforts to curb this disease," Dean said.

On the stage behind the president at the AIDS event were three recipients of U.S.-supported treatment, Thandazile Darby, 35, and her two children, Lewis, 4, and Emily, 5, of Durban. All are HIV-positive, as was Darby's husband and the children's father, who died in 2002. The three are receiving antiretroviral drugs provided through a program supported by the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, which is funded in part by the administration's program.

While the president spoke, Emily, wearing a pink blouse, drew up her legs and lay down on her chair, her head on her mother's thigh. Lewis leaned his head back and nestled against Helga Holst, medical director of Durban's McCord Hospital, where the two children and 150 others are treated.

"It's the effect of a long speech," Bush said to laughter as he turned and introduced the family. "I want to thank you for joining us today, and I want to thank you for your strong example of courage."

Also attending was Peter Mugyenyi, 56, a physician from Kampala, Uganda, who began treating AIDS patients with triple antiretroviral therapy in 1996, the year that approach took off in the United States, where it has dramatically reduced AIDS deaths and restored thousands of people to near-normal health.

Mugyenyi was the first to use the multidrug regimen in Uganda, and one of the first in the region. He said there are now about 67,000 Ugandans on it, with PEPFAR helping to pay for about a third.

Backstage after the speech, Darby said she and her children have had dramatic responses to the drugs, which have not proved as onerous to take as she expected. In a 10-minute chat with the president and Laura Bush, she said she "thanked him for supporting us."

The Bushes invited the family to the lighting of the White House Christmas tree last night. They have tickets to see the baby panda at the National Zoo this morning and will fly home tonight.

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