By and  on June 14, 2007

NEW YORK — "We look like the sales force," cracked former president Bill Clinton, posing with John Demsey, Leonard Lauder and Nancy Mahon after receiving a $1.25 million check for his foundation's Caribbean HIV/AIDS initiative from the MAC AIDS Fund on Wednesday.

"We are the sales force," shot back Demsey, who is the chairman of the MAC AIDS Fund and a group president of the Estée Lauder Cos. Inc.

The lighthearted quips during the final photo sessions at the Hilton New York hotel contrasted sharply with the seriousness of the presentation's tone, when Demsey presented Clinton with the grant for his William J. Clinton Foundation HIV/AIDS Initiative.

The grant was the largest single bequest in the MAC AIDS Fund's history, said Demsey. It will be used to provide access to treatment, upkeep and establishment of clinics and treatment and prevention programs in rural areas of the Dominican Republic, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago. Another $750,000 has been allocated to organizations doing work in the region, including: $150,000 to the Collaborative Fund for HIV Treatment and Preparedness; $101,900 to the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting; $75,000 to Immigration Equality, and $200,000 to Planned Parenthood of New York City.

"The Caribbean is our neighbor, and I feel that Americans have a heavier obligation there than anywhere on earth," said Clinton, adding that the rate of HIV/AIDS infections in the region is second only to sub-Saharan Africa, with as many as 75 percent of the estimated 250,000 people living with the disease in the Caribbean without access to health care.

The new clinics that the grant will help support in the region will save numerous lives, said Clinton. "Once the programs are set up there, we can bring the models to India, Africa, China and even the U.S."

Turning to Demsey, Clinton added, "We will do our best to spend your money well."

The MAC AIDS Fund, which has raised more than $95 million for the cause since its founding in 1994, is funded by the sales of Viva Glam lipsticks and lip glosses. Both Demsey and Mahon, who is the executive director of the MAC AIDS Fund and a vice president of MAC Cosmetics, are quick to give credit to Lauder, the chairman of the Estée Lauder Cos., for his support of the program.Until Clinton, Demsey said later, "there really had been no champion for that region. This initiative is mobilizing the area, and we have an extraordinary opportunity to make a difference."

Demsey said the Clinton Foundation was chosen as the recipient of the grant primarily because of the organization's infrastructure in the region. He said that Mahon toured the organization's facilities in the field and she was impressed by the quantifiable impact of its efforts.

The foundation works with 25 countries in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean to purchase and distribute antiretroviral drugs at affordable prices. A total of 68 countries now have access to the Foundation's reduced prices for the drugs and diagnostics.

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