IAPAC Embraces U.S. Commitment to International AIDS Funding, Urges Senate Support, and Cautions Against Further Restrictions

Chicago -- Subsequent to the proceedings yesterday of the U.S. House of Representatives around legislation to commit $US15 billion in the global fight against HIV/AIDS, the International Association of Physicians in AIDS Care (IAPAC) today expressed its mixed support and disappointment regarding the outcomes of the House debate and vote. Although adopted in the House by a convincing vote of 375-41, the legislation in question (House Resolution 1298) did not escape what had been much anticipated efforts at amendment by conservative Representatives.

With this important vote now setting the stage for U.S. Senate deliberation over similar legislation, the global association continued to support and applaud the sheer financial commitment represented by the bill. However, it expressed its equal disappointment and concern at the ultimate limitations that various amendments attached to the bill will cause. The amendments in question, accepted by very narrow margins during House votes yesterday, make imperative that no less than one-third of U.S. funds spent on HIV prevention be dedicated to abstinence-only programs, and also ensure that organizations which oppose condom distribution and other widely recognized public health measures not be excluded from U.S. funding.

These came in addition to language, already successfully entered into the bill by Representative Christopher Smith (R-NJ) during its crafting in the House International Relations Committee, which restricted funding to groups that conduct prevention outreach work with commercial sex workers. Smith was, incidentally, the sponsor of the amendment yesterday that ensures funding to groups opposed to condom distribution and other public health interventions.

Speaking on yesterday's House results, IAPAC Director of Global Health Policy, Scott A. Wolfe, expressed sentiment reflective of a strong current within the global AIDS community.

"It is encouraging that this past year has seen so many positive steps toward adequate funding of the global struggle against the AIDS pandemic. This battle takes courage, compassion, and expertise, but it also cannot be undertaken without financial support, such as that now offered up by HR 1298," Wolfe asserted. "However, it is a shame that the House was unable to succeed in passing this legislation without amendments that will reduce its potential impact, if it is ultimately signed into law, and if these funds are then actually appropriated."

In an effort to clearly articulate to both House and Senate representatives the potential implications of adding to HR 1298 ideologically motivated amendments, IAPAC coordinated a sign-on campaign that was delivered to members of both branches of government, urging them to listen to the collective voice of public health experts, clinicians, AIDS advocates, and faith-based leaders who stand opposed to the restrictions that they would entail.

"That various House Representatives proceeded unabated in their effort to add these new clauses into the legislation, despite the wide-spread cautioning of experts who have worked for over twenty years in clinical management and research, public health, and social support to prevent and treat HIV, is disconcerting," Wolfe added. "What is at play is a sheer misunderstanding among certain officials of the interplay of poverty, social debilitation, and demographic realities that confound HIV prevention and care efforts in the world's poorest regions, factors which inform the strong recommendations that were put forward to House and Senate members by scores of experts in these areas over the past few months."

With the House legislation now passed on to the Senate for consideration, IAPAC urged the Senate to pass this legislation without further restricting funding, and to demonstrate its strong support for eventual appropriations once passed. This came with indication that the association and global partners will continue to watch closely to track progress over the weeks to come.

"We call on the Senate, and in particular Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, to give guidance and support for this critical initiative," Wolfe concluded.