Congress Lost the Keys to Stopping AIDS

Scott Swenson

Congress, in the midst of a senior moment, has lost the keys to stopping HIV/AIDS, but advocates plan to deliver them a set on Monday. Nothing short of the next generation of Africans is at stake, and it will take more than a red cell phone or t-shirt to change course. Doing the right thing is what's hip now.

Has Congress lost its keys? When it comes to fighting AIDS in Africa, the answer is yes, but AIDS advocates know right where to find them, and will deliver them to Congress on Monday. The keys promise to be so large, they can't possibly be misplaced again.

Frustrated by the half-measures in the current version of the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), AIDS advocates from around the country are gathering in Washington, DC on Monday to deliver five keys to stopping AIDS to Congress. Activists will also gather in Indiana, outside the office of Sen. Dick Lugar (R-IN), ranking member on Senate Foreign Relations. The House is expected to vote on its version of PEPFAR Wednesday.

"We are calling on Congress to fix some of the problems we see in the current version of the legislation," said Kaytee Riek, of Health GAP, one of the organizers of the action. "There are some very good things in the bill, but it doesn't go far enough."

According to the organizers, the five keys to stopping AIDS are,

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  • Funding at $59 Billion. Riek explained the current bill, because of efforts on TB and Malaria that have been added, is still $9 billion short of what is needed over the next five years for AIDS.
  • Family Planning. Eliminate any restrictions on money invested in family planning to better serve women and girls.
  • Health Care Workers. Organizers are concerned that language in the bill training 140,000 new health care workers is not specific enough, "Doctors and nurses are what's needed, not volunteers," Riek said.
  • Remove the Anti-Prostitution Pledge, Onerous Behavioral Restrictions. The prostitution pledge, inserted by social conservative ideologues in the first PEPFAR five years ago, essentially prevents money being spent to reach this most vulnerable population with prevention and treatment services. Other provisions in the bill restrict money by dictating certain types of prevention programming, like abstinence-only, which Riek said, "we now know doesn't work outside of comprehensive sexuality education programs."
  • Increase Treatment. The current bill provides treatment for three million people, organizers would like to see that increased to four million.

When asked about AIDS advocates that are supporting the current compromised version of the bill, Riek said, "We should all be fighting for as many good things as possible in this bill. We should not be compromising at this pooint."

Supporters will gather at Taft Memorial Park at First and Constitution, just north of the U.S. Senate, at 11:00 a.m. Sponsors of the action include, African Services Committee, ACT UP Philadelphia, Advocates for Youth, American Medical Student Association, Americans for Informed Democracy, Center for Health and Gender Equity, Health GAP, Student Campaign for Child Survival, Student Global AIDS Campaign, and University Coalitions for Global Health.

See Rewire's extensive coverage of PEPFAR.

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