House introduces $15 billion international AIDS bill

By Advocate.com Editors

Originally published on Advocate.com March 19 2003 12:00 AM ET

U.S. House International Relations Committee chairman Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.) and Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), the committee's ranking Democrat, introduced a bill Monday that would authorize spending $3 billion annually for the next five years on international AIDS efforts. The bill was crafted to put into place President Bush's proposed $15 billion AIDS program. The bill would allocate 55% of annual funds for treatment, with much of the remainder going toward prevention programs and palliative care. Included in those percentages are contributions to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria of about $1 billion per year. Restrictions in the bill, however, prevent the U.S. from donating more than one third of the global fund's total budget, so in order to receive $1 billion in U.S. funds in 2004 the global fund will have to receive $2 billion from other nations. The bill also calls for the establishment of a congressional task force to ensure that U.S. contributions to the global fund are being used effectively.

The compromise legislation also guarantees that the Administration's "Mexico City" policy of preventing U.S. funds from going to groups that offer abortion services, even family planning services that mention abortion as an option, will not be applied to new international AIDS grants. The policy, originally enacted by President Reagan at a population conference in 1984, is widely considered by AIDS activists as restrictive because most HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment programs in developing countries are offered by agencies that also provide family planning services. Hyde has reportedly told the Republican majority in the House not to raise the abortion issue when the bill is up for debate by the full House.

AIDS activists praised the compromise legislation. "If funded speedily and implemented efficiently, this bill could truly be a turning point in the world's efforts to stop the deadly AIDS pandemic," said Mark Isaac, vice president of the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation. Gloria Feldt, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said she is particularly pleased that the "Mexico City" restrictions would not be applied to the funds. "The gag rule would have cost lives," she said.