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AIDS Advocates Mount Congressional Drive for More US Funding

One of the highlights of President Bush’s State of the Union initiatives for African countries was his appeal for congress to double his 2003 five-year commitment of 15 billion dollars for fighting HIV-AIDS. However, advocates promoting congressional legislation in the weeks and months ahead say the president’s 30 billion-dollar request amounts to little or no new funding increases for AIDS treatment, since the raised levels he asked for Monday night have already been approved by congress in earlier budgets. A coalition of AIDS advocacy groups headed to Capitol Hill Tuesday to lobby key congressional leaders to raise annual HIV-AIDS appropriations above 6 billion dollars for next year and beyond. Communications director David Bryden of the Global AIDS Alliance describes how the coalition is pursuing additional AIDS funding with congress.

“One of the things that we have done is to thank members of congress who have been really clear in proposing levels of funding and also proposing changes in the policy on AIDS to reflect the needs of Africa. That’s one of the things that we were doing today. We thanked Senator Biden and Congressman Lantos for their tremendous leadership on this issue. In terms of weighing in with these committees and these hearings, a number of experts who have been testifying have been making a number of points that we’ve made, and we’ll be looking very closely at the legislation as it’s drafted and considered. And we’re hoping that Americans across the country will weigh in with their members of congress to say that this is a process that really matters. The United States should get this policy right, and that they expect their members of congress to see that that’s done,” he said.

Bryden explains how the Bush Administration’s budget arithmetic on AIDS for 2009, while worthy, could scale back meaningful growth in African clinics and treatment programs.

“There’s no question that it has already had a positive impact on the area of HIV-AIDS treatment. And I think that if the program were to be flat-funded, there’s no question it could continue to have a positive impact, although at a reduced level. And the United States would not really be able to keep the promises that we’ve made at the international level on this issue. But I think that by the end of the president’s term, he will achieve his goals on treatment, which is two million people on HIV-AIDS treatment. And if it weren’t for the president, these people wouldn’t be on treatment,” he said.

In contrast to the 30 billion-dollar Bush plan, David Bryden says various American health groups and AIDS advocates are proposing to boost global funding to 41, 50, and 59 billion dollars over the next five years.

“Once you include TB and malaria spending, we’ve advocated that TB programs must be dramatically expanded. And the president’s budget proposals each year have not reflected the need for what needs to be spent on TB, or malaria for that matter. The malaria picture is somewhat better because he has his presidential malaria initiative (PMI). But the TB initiative is particularly neglected, so our organization fully supports more funding for TB, particularly because so many people suffering from HIV-AIDS are suffering from TB and dying of TB,” he said.