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May-June 2011

Vol. 36, No. 3


HIV and AIDS: Sustaining our commitment

In June, the United Nations will host a General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on HIV and AIDS to assess progress in the global response to the pandemic and to make new commitments for the coming years. Faith-based activists are working together in networks, including the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance (EAA) and the Catholic AIDS Network, as well as with broader coalitions, to ensure that what has been achieved in treating people living with HIV and AIDS and slowing the spread of the disease is not lost and that high quality global attention to its eradication is sustained.

Of great concern is the potential impact of severely restricted budgets in countries like the U.S. that have been generous in recent years in their support of AIDS programs in the global South. Since 2009, the U.S. has not increased funding for global AIDS enough even to keep up with inflation (see NewsNotes, March-April 2011). Further, the determination of many Congressional newcomers to reduce the deficit and control government spending will make it more difficult to secure increased – or even the same – funding for the President's Emergency Program for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) or the Global Fund.

In testimony submitted to the House Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs for FY 2012, the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns wrote:

We urge the U.S. Congress to appropriate the nearly $5.74 billion requested by President Obama for bilateral HIV/AIDS programs, as well as $1 billion for the Global Fund, and $251 million for bilateral TB programs. The deep experience of Maryknoll missioners in varied situations verifies the critical importance to the survival of millions of poor HIV+ people around the world of sustained contributions from bilateral, multilateral and private donors. U.S. support for PEPFAR and the Global Fund have enabled many not only to survive but to thrive, to care for their children and to become once again productive members of their communities.

Recounting the story of Lucy, who is HIV+ and works with Maryknoll Sisters Dee Smith and Marlene Condon in Guatemala, the testimony underscores the importance of sustained access to anti-retroviral medicines and the contributions being made to families, local communities and the world by those restored to health and productivity by ARVs.

The testimony continues, "When anti-retroviral medicines are readily available and properly administered, mother-to-child transmission of the AIDS virus is increasingly rare and HIV+ parents are staying alive to care for their healthy children. ... [C]onsistent treatment is prevention. Interrupted or unavailable treatment will reinvigorate the pandemic just as its ultimate control is beginning to seem possible.

"We urge you to support the administration's requested appropriation for HIV and AIDS programs, including PEPFAR and the Global Fund. While in general we support the impetus of the Global Health Initiative, it is crucial that full funding for existing prevention and treatment programs continue as national health care capacity is strengthened. Obviously, high standards of accountability and transparency should be required of all public and private recipients."

Efforts by faith groups and others will have to be particularly focused and intense in the weeks leading up to the high-level June meeting at the UN to send a clear message to governments that the issue remains of supreme importance. The Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance and other faith-based groups are insisting that the declaration by June's high-level meeting include commitments by national governments to address stigma, discrimination and root causes of vulnerability to HIV; achieve universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support; and ensure accountability and sufficient resources.

Faith in action:

Two immediate actions are very important to ensure that the U.S. government lives up to its commitment on HIV and AIDS: 1) Write to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Dr. Eric Goosby, the U.S. Global AIDS administrator, urging high level U.S. participation in the June UNGASS on AIDS in New York. President Obama's participation would give a significant boost to the status of the meeting and encourage serious ongoing commitments by the U.S. and other governments; 2) Contact your representative and senators, urging them to fully fund the administration's request for global AIDS-related funding, including for PEPFAR and the Global Fund. Remind them that the U.S. response to the AIDS pandemic has enjoyed broad bilateral support in Congress.

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