Jan 31 2003 3:17PM

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Bush cleared the way on Friday for providing wide access to new AIDS tests that can deliver results in minutes, and promised a big increase in domestic funding for AIDS prevention.
Bush said the Health and Human Services Department had approved a rapid AIDS test that would be available for use in more than 100,000 doctors' offices across the country.

The test, which provides results in about 20 minutes, is needed because every year an estimated 8,000 infected people go to clinics for testing but do not return a week later for the results.

"This country needs to provide some hope, because this disease can be prevented and it can be treated," Bush said in a speech after meeting his advisory council on HIV/AIDS.

Under fire from AIDS groups for what they call his neglect of the disease, Bush asked Congress on Tuesday to triple AIDS spending in Africa and Haiti to $15 billion over five years.

On Friday, he said he was proposing $16 billion for AIDS prevention and treatment in the United States in the 2004 fiscal year, a 7 percent increase over current funding.

More than 36 million people are infected with the virus that causes AIDS -- 25 million in Africa alone. The United Nations predicts AIDS will kill 70 million people in the next 20 years unless rich nations step up efforts.

There is no cure for AIDS, but a cocktail of expensive drugs known as antiretrovirals can keep the disease at bay. Such drugs are largely available in wealthy nations, but not in those hardest hit by AIDS.

The new AIDS test, called OraQuick and made by OraSure Technologies Inc., had 99.6 percent accuracy from testing a drop of blood drawn from a finger and was simple to use, the Food and Drug Administration said. OraSure's stock jumped more than 20 percent to $7.46 on the Nasdaq on Friday.

An estimated one-quarter of the estimated 900,000 HIV-positive people in the United States do not know they are infected with the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Finding out enables them to seek treatment and take steps to prevent spreading the virus.

The OraQuick test will be useful for identifying HIV-positive pregnant women going into labor, providing the chance for treatment to prevent infections in their newborns. The test also will help determine quickly when health care workers are accidentally exposed to infected blood.