Published on Wednesday, June 5, 2002 in the OneWorld.net
U.S. Congress Considers Big Increase in Global AIDS Funding
by Jim Lobe
With the United States Senate set to vote this week on a big increase in funding to fight the HIV/AIDS epidemic overseas, more than 100 U.S. and international activist groups are lobbying hard for a package that would more than double the U.S. contribution to the new United Nations - backed Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria.
Strong grassroots support for a greater U.S. commitment to the fight against HIV/AIDS, as well as disappointment with the administration's contributions to that effort to date, seems all but certain to translate into a major boost in U.S. spending, according to Congressional aides, speaking in advance of the vote on two amendments to the 2002 supplemental appropriations bill.
The amendment with the greatest support from U.S. And overseas nongovernmental organizations--including Doctors Without Borders and Oxfam America--would provide US$600 million in additional funding for anti-HIV/AIDS efforts, of which $200 million would be provided to bilateral U.S. programs and $400 million to the Global Fund. It is co-sponsored by Democratic Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois and Republican Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania.
A second amendment, cosponsored by Republican Senators Bill Frist of Tennessee and Jesse Helms of North Carolina, would appropriate up to $500 million dollars, provided the private sector pledges the same amount of money in discounted medications or other goods and services. Most of the money would be earmarked for programs that buy and distribute drugs that prevent the transmission of HIV/AIDS from mother to child.
Both amendments mark substantial advances over previous U.S. appropriations which have fallen far short of what the UN, public-health experts, and AIDS activists say is needed to combat the disease, which last year killed three million people worldwide, some 95 percent of whom lived in poor countries and more than 70 percent in sub-Saharan Africa.
To contain the spread of HIV/AIDS, the UN has said the Global Fund, which announced its initial disbursements in April, will need at least $7-10 billion a year to contain the deadly disease in developing countries. So far, however, it has received only about $2 billion for its first two years of operation.
Activists have been particularly critical of the U.S., which has the world's largest economy by far, for holding back. Normally, Washington provides about 25 percent of UN agency budgets, but the Bush administration has so far earmarked only $500 million over two years, setting a poor example, according to the activists, for European and other donors, although they generally have pledged far more than the U.S. on a per capita basis.
"We cannot move at a snail's pace as this plague gallops away from us," said Durbin.
The current Senate version of the supplemental bill, approved last month by the Appropriations Committee, adds $100 million to the $200 million already approved for the Global Fund for fiscal year 2002. The committee narrowly defeated a proposal to add $500 million to the Fund.
The Republican-controlled House of Representatives last month approved its own version of the supplemental that would provide as much as $200 million more to the Fund, and any bill passed by the Senate this week would have to be reconciled with the House version.
The activist groups favor the Durbin-Specter bill precisely because, in addition to moving towards meeting the Fund's needs, it would provide more money to a range of programs which are much broader than those contemplated in the Frist-Helms amendment. The Fund, for example, has been more open to prevention programs than has the U.S. Agency for International Development, which handles bilateral aid.
"This Fall, when the Global Fund awards its second round of grants, this innovative and fast-moving mechanism will be completely bankrupted by hundreds of technically rigorous, transparent and accountable applications," according to a letter sent by the groups to each senator Monday. "Your co-sponsorship and vote in support of the amendment will have a tremendous impact on whether the Global Fund will be able to enter this second round with cash to distribute, or only apologies."
The Helms-Frist bill, however, is believed to have more support in part because of strong backing from right-wing Christian groups that have generally preferred prevention over treatment programs. The administration also appears to favor it.
Copyright © 2002 OneWorld.net