“We set priorities in my administration, and one such priority was human life on the continent of Africa.”
Bush, a Republican who was president of the US for two terms, spent billions on foreign aid during his years in office, particularly on a program called PEPFAR aimed at combatting HIV/AIDS in Africa. He went to Namibia to see the program in action, and visited a maternity ward there.
"Seeing a roomful of ladies, most of whom — if not all — had the AIDS virus, and every one of their babies was born without AIDS. Mother-to-child transmission efforts of PEPFAR have been unbelievably successful,” he told NPR.
Bush called it the “most meaningful moment” of his work there. When asked what he would say to a struggling mother in the US while aid was being funneled abroad, Bush said that the government can’t solve every problem, but he would hope aid would reach her, too.
“But the idea of turning our back on a pandemic that would've wiped out an entire generation of people, I don't think is in the spirit of the United States,” he said.
President Donald Trump has proposed cutting the State Department’s budget by 28% next year, which would dramatically reduce foreign aid and the United States’ support of the United Nations.
The moral question of saving lives in other countries isn’t the only reason to rely on foreign aid, Bush said. Foreign aid is also critical to national security because it increases stability in countries around the world.
"When you have an entire generation of people being wiped out and the free world turns its back, it provides a convenient opportunity for people to spread extremism," he said. "I believe in this case that it's in our national security interests as well as in our moral interest to continue funding this program."
Bush said that among the priorities he set in his administration when he took office was “human life on the content of Africa” because too little had been done to combat AIDS on the continent, devastating an entire generation. He saw two reasons to act: to avoid enormous instability on the continent, and because if he hadn’t helped, he “would’ve been ashamed,” he said.
Bush joins other outspoken Republicans, including Sen. Lindsey Graham, Sen. Thad Cochran from Mississippi, Congressman Hal Rogers from Kentucky, Congressman Charlie Dent from Pennsylvania, and Congresswoman Kay Granger from Texa in supporting foreign aid ahead of Congress’s work on next year’s budget.