$15 billion effort to fight AIDS has handed out nearly
one quarter of its grants to religious groups, and officials
are aggressively pursuing new church partners that
often emphasize disease prevention through abstinence
and fidelity over condom use. Award recipients include
a Christian relief organization famous for its
televised appeals to feed hungry children, a well-known
Catholic charity, and a group run by the son of
evangelist Billy Graham, according to the State
The outreach to
nontraditional AIDS players comes in the midst of a
debate over how best to prevent the spread of HIV. The
debate has activated groups on both ends of the
political spectrum and created a vast competition for
Christian allies of the president are pressing the U.S.
foreign aid agency to give fewer dollars to groups that
distribute condoms or work with prostitutes. The Bush
administration provided more than 560 million condoms
abroad last year, compared with some 350 million in
organizations in Africa are raising concerns that new money
to groups without AIDS experience may dilute the
impact of Bush's historic three-year-old program. "We
clearly recognize that it is very important to work
with faith-based organizations," said Dan Mullins,
deputy regional director for southern and western Africa for
CARE, one of the best-known humanitarian
organizations. "But at the same time we don't want to
fall into the trap of assuming faith-based groups are good
Administration is beginning a broad effort to attract
newcomers and distribute money for AIDS prevention and
care beyond the large nonprofit groups that
traditionally have led the fight.
The New Partners
Initiative reserves $200 million through the 2008 budget
year for community and church groups with little or no
background in government grants. Some may have health
operations in Africa but no experience in HIV work.
Others may be homegrown groups in Africa that have not
previously sought U.S. support.
"The notion that,
because people have always received aid money, they'll
get money needs to end," deputy U.S. global AIDS coordinator
Mark Dybul said. "The only way to have sustainable programs
is to have programs that are wholly owned in terms of
management personnel at the local level."
groups involved in health and development projects
typically enlist local religious groups because of their
deep community ties.
The goal now is
to penetrate hard-to-reach corners of the target
countries--13 in Africa as well as Haiti and Vietnam--and
bring aboard community and faith groups that
previously lacked expertise to win grants, Dybul said.
organizations last year accounted for more than 23% of all
groups that got AIDS grants, according to the State
Department. Some 80% of all secular and religious
grant recipients were based in the countries where the
aid is targeted.
winning grants were:
* Samaritan's Purse, which is run by Graham's
son, Franklin. It says its mission is "meeting
critical needs of victims of war, poverty, famine,
disease, and natural disaster while sharing the Good News of
* World Vision. The 56-year-old Christian
organization is known for its TV appeals--some with
celebrities such as game show host Alex Trebek--that
ask viewers to support Third World children.
* Catholic Relief Services. It was awarded $6.2
million to teach abstinence and fidelity in three
countries, $335 million in a consortium providing
antiretroviral treatment, and $9 million to help orphans and
children affected by AIDS. The group offers "complete and
correct information about condoms" but will not
promote, purchase, or distribute them, said Carl
Stecker, senior program director for HIV/AIDS.
* HOPE. The global relief organization founded
by the International Churches of Christ recently
brought comedian Chris Rock to South Africa for an
AIDS prevention event. AIDS grants support HOPE in several
* World Relief, founded by the National
Association of Evangelicals. It won $9.7 million for
abstinence work in four countries.
Most of the money
in Bush's initiative goes to treatment programs,
earning the Administration praise for delivering lifesaving
drugs and care to millions of HIV patients.
Bush embraces the "ABC" strategy: abstinence before
marriage, being faithful to one partner, and condoms
targeted for high-risk activity. The Republican-led
Congress mandated that one-third of prevention money
be reserved for abstinence and fidelity. Condom
promotion to anyone must include abstinence and fidelity
messages, U.S. guidelines say, but those preaching
abstinence do not have to provide condom education.
emphasis, say some longtime AIDS volunteers, has led to a
confusing message and added to the stigma of condom use in
parts of Africa. Village volunteers in Swaziland
maintain a supply of free condoms but say they have
"This drive for
abstinence is putting a lot of pressure on girls to
get married earlier," said Abeja Apunyo, the Uganda
representative for Pathfinder International, a
reproductive health nonprofit group based in
Massachusetts. "For years now, we have been trying to tell
our daughters that they should finish their education
and train in a profession before they get married.
Otherwise, they have few options if they find
themselves separated from their husbands for some
pastor in Uganda explained his abstinence teaching to
unmarried young people. "Why give an alternative and have
them take a risk?" asked the Reverend Sam Lawrence
Ruteikara of the Anglican Church of Uganda, a U.S.
grant recipient. "This person doesn't have a sexual
partner, so why should I report too much, saying that in
case you get a sexual partner, please use a condom. I
am saying, please don't get a sexual partner--don't
get involved because it is risky."
say it is not realistic to expect all teenagers to
abstain from sex and that teenagers also should be taught
how to protect themselves.
programs have spread abstinence and faithfulness education
to more than 13 million people in Uganda, according to
the State Department. Officials promote the nation as
an "ABC" model, with its HIV infection rate down by
more than half in a decade.
Rep. Chris Smith,
a New Jersey Republican, said that on a tour of Uganda
in January he saw pro-abstinence rallies and skits praising
Bush, and U.S.-supported groups conducting
house-to-house testing, care, and counseling.
"The good news
about the faith-based groups is not only the passion
they bring to the work but it is the moral authority and the
extended numbers of volunteers they can mobilize to
get the word out," Smith said.
believes the Administration is wrongly supporting some
nonprofit groups. He and several other congressional
conservatives wrote to Bush and the U.S. Agency for
International Development, contending that several
large grant recipients were pro-prostitution, pro-abortion,
or not committed enough to Bush's abstinence priorities.
followed a briefing last year by Focus on the Family, run by
Christian commentator and Bush ally James Dobson. The
group's sexual health analyst, Linda Klepacki, said
even some religious groups emphasize condoms over
"We have to be
careful that the president's original intent is being
followed where A and B are the emphasized areas of the ABC
methodology," she said.
Democrats, in a letter last week to Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice, accused the conservatives of a distortion
campaign that undermines a balanced approach to
"Their attack is
based on a narrow ideological viewpoint that condemns
condoms and frames any attempt to reach out to high-risk
populations as an endorsement of behaviors that these
critics oppose," said Rep. Henry Waxman, a California
declined to renew funding for two major AIDS-fighting
consortiums, CORE and IMPACT, headed by organizations the
conservatives targeted. Those two groups fund hundreds
of community and religious-based organizations.
CORE, whose lead
partner is CARE, is losing its central source of money,
meaning its work survives only if it can win grants from
individual USAID missions in target countries.
International, the lead organization of IMPACT, brought
hundreds of local and religious groups into its $441 million
project, but was told the Administration wants new
partners, said Sheila Mitchell, senior vice president
of FHI's Institute for HIV/AIDS.
Dybul said the
changes are in keeping with the shift to local groups. Any
suggestion of political motivation is "inaccurate and
offensive to people doing this work," he said.
Millions of grant dollars still go to the groups that
One grant was
delayed when Sen. Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican, last
year complained about renewing $14 million to Population
Services International, a leading nonprofit condom
distributor. The group's bingo-style games that teach
Guatemalan prostitutes about safer sex misused funds
"to exploit victims of the sex trade," Coburn said.
Sen. Larry Craig, an Idaho Republican, then wrote to praise
PSI's work as "provably effective and efficient."
USAID divided the
grant; condom distribution was separated into the
smaller part so that religious groups could apply for the
other part. PSI eventually won the larger grant. The
second is outstanding.
Administration critics frequently cite PSI as a group that
fell from favor under the new initiative, "we have not
been eviscerated," said Stewart Parkinson, a senior
program analyst. The group lost U.S. grants in Uganda
and Tanzania but retained others. And Parkinson said
he had no indication of political motivation. (AP)
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