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Feinstein plans
bill to ease PEPFAR’s ineffective push for abstinence

Feinstein plans
bill to ease PEPFAR’s ineffective push for abstinence

Feinstein's bill follows GAO report showing abstinence requirements hurt other AIDS efforts.

U.S. senator Dianne Feinstein of California outlined plans Tuesday for legislation to ensure that affected nations receiving U.S. funds through the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief are given the maximum flexibility they need to develop multipronged HIV prevention programs. The senator's announcement followed the release of a federal General Accounting office report that says the Bush administration's push for abstinence education programs in PEPFAR nations is ineffective and actually hampers other HIV prevention efforts.

Congress currently requires that two thirds of all PEPFAR funds earmarked for HIV prevention programs be spent on abstinence education and programs encouraging monogamy. But the GAO report says that requirement is forcing foreign countries to scale back other prevention efforts, including those aimed at preventing mother-to-child HIV transmissions and others that provide condoms to individuals at high risk for HIV infection.

"The GAO report clearly demonstrates that we are not doing everything we can to protect high-risk populations around the world from the transmission of HIV/AIDS," Feinstein said in a statement. She added that requiring a large chunk of U.S. AIDS funds to be spent on abstinence instruction is a faulty approach. "It means less money for funds to prevent mother-to-child transmissions; less money to promote a comprehensive prevention message to high-risk groups, such as sexually active youth; and less funds to protect the blood supply. And the GAO report agrees. In fact, the report concludes that the Administration's 'abstinence-before-marriage' earmark inhibits local efforts on the ground to stop the spread of this dreadful pandemic."

Feinstein says she will introduce in the Senate legislation that will ensure that overseas HIV prevention programs provide at-risk individuals with all of the information they need to protect themselves, which includes both abstinence education and instruction on condom use. The bill also will make sure that other HIV prevention efforts, such as blood safety programs and mother-to-child transmission prevention initiatives, are not hurt through the strings the U.S. places on PEPFAR grants.

"Instead of tying the hands of people on the ground and taking funds away from other much-needed prevention programs, we should give these countries the maximum flexibility they need to develop a multipronged HIV prevention program," Feinstein said in a statement. "We should emphasize the comprehensive prevention message of the 'ABC' approach: abstinence, being faithful to one's partner, and condom use."

The GAO report surveyed 17 countries that receive U.S. AIDS money and found that in 10 of them mother-to-child transmission programs were affected by the abstinence requirement; all 10 requested and received exemptions from the U.S. requirement. The seven other countries also reported that their mother-to-child prevention programs were impacted, but they did not quality for exemptions and were forced to continue to spend two thirds of their U.S. prevention grants on education programs for abstinence and monogamy.

The report also showed that in eight of the countries, the U.S. requirement for abstinence education hindered condom programs that already were in place and had shown positive results in protecting at-risk groups. (The Advocate)

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