AIDS bill nears vote

By Megan Pellegrino
April 24, 2008


The U.S. Senate is currently going through the legislative process for renewal on the U.S. global AIDS bill. On April 2, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly voted to reauthorize PEPFAR. The House raised the 30 billion dollar proposal to 50 billion dollars.

President Bush has led the effort to combat HIV/AIDS.

“America is leading the fight against disease. Our emergency plan for AIDS relief is treating 1.4 million people. We can bring healing and hope to many more. So I ask you to maintain the principles that have changed behavior and made this program a success and I call on you to double our initial commitment to fighting HIV/AIDS by approving an additional 30 billion dollars over the next five years,” President Bush stated in The State of the Union Address delivered on Jan. 28.

PEPFAR is the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, implemented by Bush in 2003.

PEPFAR is the largest commitment by any nation dedicated to a single disease.

“The President’s plan to double the PEPFAR fund for addressing the AIDS pandemic is laudable but you could add 100 percent more of that and really make a difference,” Ken Hackett, President of Catholic Relief Services, said during a sit down interview.

PEPFAR supports 114 countries around the world with 15 focus countries including Kenya, Zambia and Uganda, which receive two-thirds of funding.

“The PEPFAR fund is not just for antiretroviral medicine, it is also for education…for awareness, creation and prevention. People in Africa, people in my country, have unanimously said PEPFAR is a wonderful move, this is a great move, it is in the right direction in terms of trying to fight HIV in the developing world,” Thomas Awiapo, a Catholic Relief Services staff member, said in an exclusive conference call.

Although differences between the House version and the Senate version will have to be resolved, both versions support an unprecedented $50 billion to be spent over five years.

On April 11, four Senators put PEPFAR on hold, meaning that PEPFAR cannot continue through legislation until all senators agree to pass the bill. Sen. Tom Colburn of Oklahoma initiated the hold believing that the $50 billion increase is too large.

Colburn states he will keep his hold on PEPFAR until the amount is dropped to the initial proposal. Sen. Jim DeMint from South Carolina agrees with Colburn’s letter and quoted in remarks, ” I think it’s the height of irresponsibility in the middle of a war and surging debts for us to be dramatically increasing the cost and the scope of the program.”

“If PEPFAR ended and we do not get renewal funding, then that would imply we will have left them midway. Now that we have engage them in PEPFAR, the renewal would imply taking them through to maturity and there will be a tangible benefit,” Kenyan Clinical Officer Robert Makunu said in a Loquitur interview.

AIDS is the fourth leading cause of death around the world and has killed at least 20 million. Sixty million are infected with HIV/AIDS. Fourteen million are orphans worldwide.

As of March 31, 2007, AIDS relief from the United States supported life-saving antiretroviral treatment for more than 1 million men, women and children suffering with HIV/AIDS worldwide.

“I can say that it has brought along a lot of joy and happiness into the lives of people. It has prolonged the lives of some people who have otherwise been dead. How can I not say that the PEPFAR program is not a wonderful program? This is a great program and I wish for this program to continue for the years to come,” Awiapo said.

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Megan Pellegrino

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