There is a great deal of interest in combating HIV. Not only is it a medical matter that demands our humanitarian resolve, but it is also an economic matter for many nations that are seeing huge segments of their populations die. Whole societies in some parts of Africa are changing dramatically in front of our eyes. While everyone should applaud President Bush for requesting $30 billion to fight this disease, Congress also needs to be mindful that some conservative organization that want to use the funds might have ideas that run counter to the medical needs of the people.
While today there are many conservative religious organizations that are applauding the President for this latest request, we need to be mindful that just last December some faith groups were urging Congress to cut funding for these same programs. The faith based groups want to use some of these funds to promote religion, while the pragmatic health oriented groups understand the need to promote condom use, and the necessity of drug users having clean needles.
The Global Fund is the brainchild of Bill and Melinda Gates, and this massive effort is one of the pillars of fighting AIDS around the world. The only larger program to combat AIDS is President Bush’s 5-year, $15 billion plan from early in his first term. Together these programs work in 136 countries. But the united efforts have produced angst with conservatives who wish to use the funds for their own special interests that often run counter to sound medical judgments.
Conservatives were angry that only 6% of funds from The Global Fund were given to faith based organizations. So some of these groups called late last year for the federal government to end support for these programs. They basically said that if they could not have public funds to promote the idea of the whole world become an abstinence zone they would take their holy water and go home, urging the Congress to follow them. That would be incredibly shortsighted.
The reason being that according to UN reports Christian health associations deliver at least 40 percent of health care in several African countries, including Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Liberia, and Kenya. No one doubts the good that these groups can contribute when they work in tandem with the medial experts. But if any group seeks to use these funds they must first and foremost have sound medical goals as the driving incentive for their involvement.
The President stepped up to the plate and offered a bold and generous plan. He decided to show the world that war was not the only thing Americans export during his term, and so made the $30 billion plan public this week. What Congress now needs to do is craft a very tight bill that will not allow the use of these funds in a way that runs counter to the science and facts of fighting HIV. The notion that a puritanical approach from faith based groups is an answer to fighting AIDS is remarkably stupid. Intelligent members of Congress need to deliver a bill that will allow for the best use of these funds as medical evidence directs.