Recently, the Bush Administration released the first of its grants as part of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR. Some of that $350-million is going to a five-member consortium to provide anti-retroviral therapy in Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America.
The consortium, led by Catholic Relief Services, will receive over 24-and-a-half million dollars in the first year of a five-year program. In all, the five groups are expected to receive a total of 335-million dollars.
Christine Tucker is the director of HIV/AIDS global response for Catholic Relief Services. The agency is the relief organization of the US Catholic Conference of Bishops and operates in more than 70 countries. From the eastern US city of Baltimore, she spoke to English to Africa reporter Joe De Capua about the federal grant.
She says, “Because of our contacts with Catholic health care networks throughout the world, when the opportunity came to expand our portfolio of programs with HIV/AIDS we were very excited. CRS has been working with HIV/AIDS programs since the beginning of the pandemic, but there have been a lot of limitations on what groups, such as ourselves, have been able to do up until now."
Besides Catholic relief Services, the consortium includes the University of Maryland Institute of Human Virology, Catholic medical Mission Board, Interchurch Medical Assistance and the Futures Group. Ms. Tucker says the consortium has several faith-based groups. She says, “It’s important to know that faith based organizations already account for between a third and a half of all of the health care that is being provided throughout the world. So if you talk about responses to a particular pandemic, we very much agree with the President’s approach that it makes very good sense to start with existing health care systems and to build from that.” She says the federal money will allow the CRS to provide more anti-retroviral drugs to those in need.
Many faith-based organizations agree that abstinence, and not condom use, is the best method of preventing the spread of HIV. This involves programs encouraging behavior change, which Ms. Tucker says more and more groups are asking about. Critics say relying on abstinence programs does not jibe with the reality that many youths are becoming sexually active at younger ages.
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