EVERY YEAR Bill Frist, the US Senate majority leader, heads to Africa with his doctor's bag to help lives in some of the continent's most miserable corners.
"Africa opened my eyes," the former heart surgeon from Tennessee once said. Now he has returned the favour by helping to open American pockets for Africa.
This week President Bush promised to triple US spending on Aids relief, up to $15bn (pounds 9bn) over five years. It caught most of his critics off guard.
Before, the administration was regarded as having a see-no-evil approach. Budgets were watered down after mammoth battles. The Christian conservative lobby didn't like condoms. Mr Bush was seen as beholden to the pharmaceutical companies fighting against cheaper generic versions of their anti-retroviral drugs.
Now the President has pulled off a spectacular U-turn. He will supply the generics to two million people, mostly in Africa. Another 10 million, some of them Aids orphans, will receive American care. And he will encourage, even pay for, the distribution of condoms.
"We had no inkling this was coming," Dr Chris Ouma, a campaigner with Action Aid in Kenya, said. "But it is very welcome. It signifies a big change towards Africa."
The discovery that the eclectic coalition of Christian evangelicals and liberal activists had been pushing for the chan- ges was just as astonishing.
Dr Frist was the one who managed to weld together the two schools of thought. He has been travelling to Africa for the past six years, working mainly through Samaritan's Purse, the charity run by Franklin Graham, the son of the evangelist Billy Graham.
The doctor has a reputation as a conservative with a liberal's heart, at least on social issues - he has stood up to anti-abortion activists in the cloning debate, and joined the Irish rock star Bono and the Harvard economist Jeffrey Sachs as Africa's champions in the corridors of power in Washington. …