PEPFAR bill authorizes $50 billion, but prevention continues to be compromised
On Wednesday, April 2, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 5501, the Tom Lantos and Henry J. Hyde United States Global Leadership Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria Reauthorization Act of 2008. While the House PEPFAR bill authorizes $50 billion over five years for HIV/AIDS, TB, and Malaria efforts, prevention continues to be compromised. This includes funding directives around abstinence and be faithful programs, the incorporation of the anti-prostitution pledge, and problematic language around family planning.
In a letter last month to the U.S. House of Representatives, religious leaders passionately advocated key changes to H.R. 5501. Citing that 2.5 million people become infected with HIV each year – and that a disproportionate number of those are women, young people and socially marginalized groups – religious leaders wrote:
"Our faiths motivate us to support the best and most flexible approaches possible to preventing new infections," the letter stated. "For this reason we write with deep concern over H.R. 5501, the Tom Lantos and Henry J. Hyde United States Global Leadership Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria Reauthorization Act of 2008, approved by the House Committee on Foreign Affairs on Feb. 27. This legislation includes several important changes in policy, program and funding streams based on what we have learned in the past five years under PEPFAR. However, the potential of this legislation – and the $50 billion authorized by the bill – will be grossly undermined by limitations placed on and serious gaps in prevention strategies."
For example, while H.R. 5501 refers to the need for linkages between family planning services and HIV prevention, counseling, and testing services, language in the bill strongly suggests that family planning organizations must be compliant with the global gag rule to receive PEPFAR funding for HIV prevention. "We strongly object to this provision."
Leaders wrote of deep concerns over restrictions on comprehensive prevention programs. "PEPFAR originally required that 33 percent of HIV prevention funds be spent on abstinence-until-marriage programs. H.R. 5501 replaces this earmark with a reporting requirement that will, in practice, do little to ease the burden of those on the ground working to protect those at greatest risk. Instead of promoting programs that allow for flexibility and that are tailored to the needs of individual communities, the new policy will continue to promote 'silos' between programs that urgently need to be integrated, and will restrict delivery of comprehensive and integrated information."
Noting that unprotected sex is the single most important factor in the spread of HIV worldwide, leaders urged support of three changes to H.R. 5501 prior to a floor vote:
- Inclusion of linkages between HIV prevention and basic family planning services without language restricting the participation of family planning organizations not compliant with the global gag rule, to ensure the greatest level of access to information and services for women and girls.
- Removal of the onerous reporting requirement, promoting abstinence and fidelity programs at the expense of flexibility in devising evidence-based, comprehensive approaches to preventing the greatest number of new infections possible; and
- Support for the purchase of and access to contraceptive supplies for women receiving Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission of HIV (PMTCT) services.
"Although we represent diverse religious and religiously-affiliated organizations," the letter concluded, "our faith traditions all share the common principles of justice, compassion, and the belief that we must not stand by as our neighbor bleeds."
To read the letter in its entirety, click here. Stay tuned for updates about action in the Senate.
High-Level UN Meeting on AIDS
The Health and Wholeness Advocacy office will be a civil society participant in the the high-level meeting on AIDS which will take place June 10-11 at the United Nations headquarters in New York. It will review progress made in implementing the 2001 Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS and the 2006 Political Declaration on HIV/AIDS.
Prior to the meeting, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will submit a comprehensive report for consideration by Member States. The report will be based on national reports that Member States were requested to submit to UNAIDS by Jan. 31.
Organizational arrangements for the meeting are outlined in a resolution adopted by the General Assembly on Dec. 19. Details about plenary meetings, thematic panel discussions and the informal interactive civil society hearing are being finalized.
The meeting will provide an important forum for various stakeholders, including government representatives and accredited civil society participants. Discussions are expected to focus on progress achieved, challenges remaining and sustainable ways to overcome them. Participants include the United Church of Christ and Linda Hartke, who will serve in a leadership role as representative for Faith Based Organizations on the UN Task Force organizing the meeting. Hartke is also Executive Director of the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance, of which the UCC's Wider Church Ministries and Justice and Witness Ministries are members.
International AIDS Conference in Mexico City
The International AIDS Conference, which provides extensive opportunities for sharing and networking across all levels of care and response to the epidemic, will be held Aug. 3-8 in Mexico City. Held every two years, the conference typically draws more than 20,000 health workers, scientists, government representatives, journalists, activists, corporate leaders, people living with HIV and AIDS, and religious leaders and representatives.
Increased faith-based participation was evident at the XVI International AIDS Conference in 2006 in Toronto, where an Ecumenical Media Team provided stories, photos, video and audio clips, as well as a daily bulletin on faith-based issues and events.
The Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance – a global network of churches and church-related organizations campaigning on HIV and AIDS – collaborates with many partners to spearhead planning for faith-based participation at International AIDS Conferences. EAA continually strives to teach about and contribute to the global response to HIV and AIDS through sharing experiences and engaging actively in the International AIDS Conferences.
The international event will be preceded by an Ecumenical PreConference, which is being coordinated by the EAA. The Rev. Michael Schuenemeyer, Executive for Health and Wholeness Advocacy for the United Church of Christ, will participate in both the PreConference and the IAC.