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US Congress Takes First Step in Approving Bush Funding Package to Fight AIDS - 2003-05-01


The House of Representatives has given overwhelming (375-41) approval to a bill to sharply increase U.S. contributions to the global fight against AIDS. Debate focused on the effectiveness of condoms versus sexual abstinence in AIDS-stricken countries.

The legislation is aimed at helping millions of victims of AIDS and other diseases. It includes $10 billion in new spending for low-cost medicines, care, and prevention in 14 countries, and also includes money for tuberculosis and malaria.

President Bush surprised many observers earlier this year when he proposed, in his State of the Union Address, a $15 billion spending package to help slow the spread of AIDS in Africa and the Caribbean.

"We can make a huge difference, a significant difference, in the lives of thousands of our fellow human beings," he said. "I want people to step back at some point in time and say, thank God for America and our generosity as lives were saved."

However, the road to passage of the legislation in the House was not easy. Republican Congressmen Hyde is chairman of the House International Relations Committee.

"This bill is a compromise, a delicately-arrived at, painstakingly-negotiated compromise between various factions interested in this legislation," he said.

Conservatives won two key amendments. One ensures that religious or "faith-based" organizations cannot be denied money because they oppose distribution of condoms.

Another amendment requires that one-third of the amount set aside specifically for AIDS prevention will be directed to programs promoting abstinence.

The debate came down to differing interpretations of the model for the bill, Uganda's successful program of prevention, called "ABC" for Abstinence, Be faithful, (Use) Condoms.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi argued that the Uganda example demonstrates the effectiveness of condoms. "It supports a balanced approach to HIV-AIDS prevention. This is a debate about whether or not we use the model that has been effective in Uganda, and that gives flexibility to those fighting the disease on the ground," she said.

While Republican leader Tom DeLay said Uganda shows abstinence is the more successful approach. "The only places returning encouraging news are those nations committed to abstinence-based prevention programs. It works. And we can't let the fog of politics obscure that fact," he said.

The bill also includes language to ensure that money for AIDS will not end up going to support programs that encourage abortion, and provides for more accountability for funds going to the U.N. Global Fund on AIDS. Similar AIDS legislation is pending in the Senate, which is expected to debate and pass its bill later this month. Any differences between House and Senate versions would be ironed out before the bill goes to the president for signature.

In Africa, the AIDS legislation focuses on Botswana, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, and Zambia. In the Caribbean: Haiti, and Guyana.