Bono was awarded the inaugural George W. Bush Medal for Distinguished Leadership Thursday, with the former president honoring the U2 singer for his work in combatting the HIV/AIDS crisis and poverty in Africa.
In 2002, during a visit to the White House, Bono lobbied the president to lend financial support to a series to humanitarian organizations that would provide financial assistance and help stem the AIDS crisis in poor countries.
“It’s a huge honor to [win] this award, and I’m here to honor your leadership on the greatest health intervention in the history of medicine,” Bono told Bush Thursday in a conversation that was live-streamed from the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas.
“That’s what I’m not sure people understand: 13 million from PEPFAR [President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief], 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.”
Bush responded, “The truth of the matter is, [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.”
Bush added, “Here’s the thing about Bono that people got to understand: I like to say he’s a real deal. 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 also praised the ONE campaign and the American taxpayers for their help. However, the singer expressed concern about whether the Trump White House will continue the fight.
“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 warned.
“This was a moonshot, and [Bush] 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 hardheaded 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.”
Bono joked that he was worried he would be fired from U2 over the honor, since his band mates were in Montreal rehearsing for their upcoming tour while the singer was accepting awards from the former president. “I kind of snuck out the back window,” Bono told Bush. The singer also expressed his condolences to the Bush family following the death of Barbara Bush earlier this week.