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Congress Poised to Reauthorize Legislation Aimed at Dramatic Expansion of Global HIV and AIDS Programs

Draft bill corrects flaws in existing policy; Legislation has overwhelming support of large global AIDS coalition

WASHINGTON, Feb. 7 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Next week, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs will mark up the U.S. Global HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria Reauthorization Act of 2008 - funding programs currently implemented under the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). A coalition of more than 160 organizations representing advocates, service providers, researchers, academics, and students is calling for swift passage of the bill, which authorizes some $50 billion and seeks to create a "sustainable response" to the global AIDS epidemic.

Changes from existing law include provisions to increase flexibility for developing country prevention programs and increased support for efforts to address the vulnerability of specific populations, including women, youth, men who have sex with men and intravenous drug users - groups among which are found the highest rates of new infection. The bill provides increased technical and financial support for strengthening health systems and supporting training of health care workers; increases funding of scientific research for new vaccines, microbicides and other prevention technologies; and calls for stronger coordination of efforts across U.S. agencies on HIV/AIDS, TB, and malaria programs.

"We are delighted that this bill recognizes the importance of building a sustainable health care system in Africa," noted Paul Davis of HealthGAP. "Right now, there are more Ethiopian doctors in Washington, D.C. than in Ethiopia. UNAIDS projects that 427,000 new health care workers are needed to achieve universal access. The U.S. should train at least one-third of the new health care workers needed and help build the capacity of impoverished nations to respond to their internal health crises and move from emergency to sustainability."

By increasing funding for global AIDS programs, the new legislation commits the United States to supporting achievement of universal access to AIDS treatment, prevention and care, and ensuring concrete progress to combat tuberculosis and malaria. "This is critical," noted Mary Carol Jennings from the AIDS Advocacy Network of the American Medical Student Association. "Each year, more than 3.5 million people die of AIDS and there are some 2.5 million new infections. Meeting the internationally agreed goal of universal access to prevention, treatment and care is the only way we can end this epidemic."

Jennifer Delaney of Global Action for Children said, "AIDS has left millions of children orphaned and vulnerable to an increased risk of sexual exploitation and becoming infected with HIV/AIDS. The new bill is an important step in breaking the cycle to help end this epidemic."

A range of faith-based groups with partners on the ground strongly support new approaches. "With over 360 grassroots partners in 36 countries - many of which have been adversely affected by restrictions in the original legislation authorizing PEPFAR - American Jewish World Service has banded together with other leading Jewish organizations, such as the National Council of Jewish Women and the Union for Reform Judaism, to advocate strongly for the Chairman's bill. There is critical support throughout the American Jewish community for effective, evidence-based prevention strategies aimed at saving as may lives as possible," stated Jodi Jacobson, Director of Advocacy for American Jewish World Service.

With 7 new infections for every person put on treatment annually, the need for effective, evidence-based prevention programs is growing daily. The new bill therefore seeks to ensure the effective use of taxpayer dollars by fixing critical flaws in the original legislation authorizing the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. "This legislation meets the real-life circumstances of people at risk of HIV infection and those living with HIV/AIDS, especially women and girls," said Adrienne Germain, President of the International Women's Health Coalition. "Frankly, it's unconscionable that because of restrictions like the abstinence-until-marriage earmark the US has not, up to this point, been investing in the education and services needed to prevent new infections."

"Numerous studies, including those by the Institute of Medicine and the Government Accountability Office have shown that this earmark undermines effective HIV prevention programs," stated Serra Sippel, Executive Director of the Center for Health and Gender Equity."

The bill further establishes in legislation a U.S. malaria program, continuing and building upon the President's Malaria Initiative that has already contributed greatly to improvements in the fight to eradicate malaria. It also includes assistance for activities aiming to prevent and stop the spread of tuberculosis, a disease that knows no borders as witnessed by the MDR-TB case in the U.S. last spring.

The chairman's bill is a product of inputs from program implementers, people living with and at risk for AIDS in PEPFAR countries and experts working to ensure that the funds spent under the bill do the most they can to positively impact individual lives.

SOURCE American Jewish World Service
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