TOPICS : AIDS plan stronger, but still flawed

HIV/AIDS activists Wednesday hailed President George W Bush’s re-authorisation of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) to 48 billion dollars for fiscal years 2009 to 2013 as a major step in the global fight against AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. Paul Davis, director of Health GAP (Global Access Project), welcomed the Tom Lantos and Henry J. Hyde United States Global Leadership Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria Reauthorisation Act of 2008 as “a huge step forward for people with AIDS worldwide.”

Health GAP and its allies were a leading voice in the yearlong negotiations that pushed the United States to pass legislation that they say goes beyond an increase in funding to address the critical lessons of the past five years of global AIDS programmes. Health GAP activists in particular applauded the bill’s new support for efforts to correct the shortage of health workers that has frustrated efforts to scale up access to care and treatment.

“This important legislation boldly recognises that women and girls are at the centre of the global HIV epidemic,” said Geeta Rao Gupta, president of the International Centre for Research on Women (ICRW). “While far from perfect, PEPFAR will significantly bolster the reach and effectiveness of the US global AIDS programme and will strengthen its priority to women and girls, laying out stronger measures to hold it accountable.” Gupta also commended the bill for addressing “social factors that exacerbate womens’ and girls’ risk of HIV infection,” such as gender-based violence and economic opportunities for women.

Following her praise of the bill’s steps towards real solutions, Gupta stated, “We are very disappointed that the final bill compromises women and girl’s rights to full information and services related to sexual and reproductive health. This will ultimately undermine the effectiveness of the investments made to reduce women’s vulnerability. Without stronger links between HIV programmes and comprehensive reproductive health information and services, women will be short-changed.”Although the bill was signed into law, Congress is not providing the money to implement it until 2009. “We deeply appreciate the hard work of everyone involved, in the Congress and the White House, which has led to this crucial legislation, yet, in terms of funding, it appears to more rhetoric than reality,” said Dr Paul Zeitz, executive director of the Global AIDS Alliance.

The Global AIDS Alliance also commented that, “President Bush should also move to immediately implement the bill’s provisions, such as by lifting immigration restrictions on people who are HIV-positive.” Many activist leaders look to an immediate lift of the ban as a priority when making the new law a reality. Nils Daulaire, president of the Global Health Council said, “Lifting the ban gives us hope that the US government will move toward a comprehensive policy that responds to the realities of the epidemic and the science of prevention, treatment and care.” — IPS