A Misguided Prescription for Women and Girls

A group of people held a press conference today on Capitol Hill to explain why they couldn't possibly support a U.S. Global HIV/AIDS strategy (PEPFAR) unless the bill reauthorizing funding for the strategy requires that at least 33% of prevention funds go to support abstinence-until-marriage programs.

The trouble with their position is that this earmark for abstinence-only prevention programs puts more lives at risk…so how can we, who are committed to confronting the epidemic, not fix this misguided law?

Protestors stand behind Pastor Rick Warren, one of the speakers at today’s press conference.

The group at the press conference today – which included Reps. Chris Smith (R-NJ) and Steve Chabot (R-OH), Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church, and Chuck Colson, Founder of Prison Fellowship – were so focused on ensuring a dedicated amount remain in the re-authorization bill to abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, they failed to see the whole picture:

The number of new HIV infections continues to grow around the world, especially among women and girls, precisely because we haven't invested in prevention resources that address their real-life circumstances.

The fixation on abstinence-only-until-marriage programs is out of step with the crushing weight of the evidence.

It's not just a bunch of uppity women wanting this abstinence-only earmark gone. An Institute of Medicine report calls for removing the earmark, as does the Government Accountability Office.

As the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation's President, Pamela Barnes, said today,

"Proposals to maintain partisan, ideologically-driven mandates that constrain countries' abilities to respond to their own epidemics threaten the continued success of the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR)."

Furthermore, the 33% of funds set aside is a completely arbitrary number. It could have easily been 99% if Congress would have gone along with it in 2003.

At the time, when amendment author Rep. Joe Pitts (R-PA) called for the earmark, he couldn't really explain why it should be 33% – just that it should be there. My guess is that he thought it was one part of the A-B-C prevention message, and since it's one letter of the first three in the alphabet, it should get one third of the funds. But, really, who knows?

None of these reports – or the bill that Congress will soon take up – call for ending work that encourages abstinence and delaying sexual debut. The new legislation simply allows for the U.S. staff in-country to look at what is specifically needed there to prevent and reduce HIV transmission and decide what prevention efforts should be undertaken.

The bottom line is that not providing people with what they need to protect themselves is a sin. The abstinence earmark skews the programs and gives short shrift to all the other prevention efforts that need to be undertaken as well.

Next week, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs will mark up the U.S. Global HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria Reauthorization Act of 2008.

Among the improvements to the existing law are increased flexibility for developing country programs, and for addressing the vulnerability of specific populations, including women, youth, and men who have sex with men. The bill also provides increased technical and financial support to countries that would support the training of health workers and fund scientific research for new vaccines and prevention technologies.

Simply put, there is another way forward.

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  • invalid-0

    The 33% abstinence-until-marriage proposal is now as has been in the past totally off the wall. The local admins of the programs need total discretion as to how to use the funding.

    All reports on abstinence-until-marriage programs that are not ‘cooked’ by the far right show that these programs are a total failure, both in developing countries and here in the US.

    Scrap this insanity before more young people are sacrificed on the alter of stupidity.

    This proposal borders on criminal.

  • invalid-0

    As you see Bush making himself appear like a great guy and a humanitarian in Africa, he has his right hit men state side cutting all help for humanity in Africa and in all nations that need our financial aid.
    As Ms Glaser states, this administration and it’s right wing hacks will do all they can to destroy all hope for those people
    “”Proposals to maintain partisan, ideologically-driven mandates that constrain countries’ abilities to respond to their own epidemics ….”

    Who do these arrogance scurrilous *&*%% ‘s think they are???
    It’s like seeing history come alive again, from the 2nd and 3rd centuries when man slaughtered man for believing in a different God. I see no difference in these so called “religious” self appointed nut jobs!!

    Throughout history people like this have done more harm to humanity than any act of terrorism… and it continues today. When will people wake=up, when will they stop giving over their souls to the soulless, mindless???
    Soon I hope.

  • invalid-0

    As someone who is living with HIV?AIDS I furious that President Bush and his Right-Winged cronies still have their heads in the sand when it comes to HIV Prevention. Abstinence Only Programs have never worked, and will never work.It’s time for President Bush and his cronies to get their HEADS OUT OF THE SAND and stop dictating that 33% of it has to go to Abstinence-Only Programs.Let PEPFAR and the other organizations provide HIV Prevention Programs that have been scientifically proven to work. I am tired of hearing that People are Dying becaue they can’t get access to the proper programs and treatment that are so desperately needed. I pray daily for those in Africa to be able to get the help they desperately need.
    Signed,LeeAnn Marino