The House voted
Thursday to triple money to fight AIDS, malaria, and
tuberculosis around the world and to repeal the
nation's discriminatory law barring
HIV-positive visitors and immigrants from entering the
United States. The 303-115 vote sends the global AIDS
bill to President Bush for his signature. Bush, who
first floated the idea of a campaign against the
scourge of AIDS in his 2003 State of the Union speech,
supports the five-year, $48 billion plan.
Repeal of the
travel ban was secured when senators John Kerry, a
Massachusetts Democrat,and Gordon Smith, an Oregon
Republican, attached the provision to the
Senate's legislation reauthorizing PEPFAR, the
President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender activist groups
hailed the passage as a big
victory. "Congressional backing for the repeal
of this unjust and sweeping policy that deems
HIV-positive individuals inadmissible to the United
States is a huge step forward for equality,"
said Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solmonese.
"The HIV travel and immigration ban performs no
public health service, is unnecessary and
Passing the bill
culminated a rare instance of cooperation between the
White House and the Democratic-controlled Congress. It was
''born out of a willingness to work together and put
the United States on the right side of history when it
comes to this global pandemic,'' said Rep. Barbara
Lee, a California Democract and a leader on the issue.
The current $15
billion act, which expires at the end of September, has
helped bring lifesaving antiretroviral drugs to some 1.7
million people and supported care for nearly 7
million. PEPFAR has won plaudits from some of Bush's
harshest critics both in Congress and around the world.
Both Democrats and Republicans hailed it as one of the most
significant accomplishments of the Bush presidency.
States, said California Democratic
representative Howard Berman, chairman of the
House Foreign Affairs Committee, ''has given hope to
millions infected with the AIDS virus, which just a few
years ago was tantamount to a death sentence.''
According to a
study by UNAIDS and the Kaiser Family Foundation, the
United States provided one fifth of AIDS funding from all
sources -- governments, international aid groups, and
the private sector -- in 2007. About 40% of the $4.9
billion disbursed in 2007 from the G-8 countries,
Europe, and other donor governments came from the United
approves spending of $5 billion for malaria and $4
billion for tuberculosis, the leading cause of death for
people with AIDS. It authorizes spending of up to $2
billion next year for the international Global Fund to
Fight AIDS. The measure also provides $2 billion, on
top of the $48 billion, for American Indian water, health,
and law enforcement programs.
While some GOP
conservatives questioned the sharp spending increase,
others said the U.S. aid had important security as well as
moral implications and gave a needed boost to
America's reputation abroad.
said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), top Republican on
the Foreign Affairs Committee, ''is leaving a trail of
poverty, despondency, and death which has destabilized
societies and undermined the security of entire
regions.'' The program has enhanced the U.S. image
around the world, she said. ''Even in the most remote areas
of Kenya or Haiti, for example, people know about the
focused on nations in sub-Saharan Africa that have been
devastated by AIDS, but it has also provided assistance in
the Caribbean and other areas hit by the pandemic now
affecting some 33 million worldwide. Even with
advances in treating the disease, there are still
about 7,000 new HIV infections every day around the world.
The new bill,
like the current law, states that 10% of funds should be
allocated for orphans and vulnerable children. It sets as a
goal preventing 12 million new HIV infections,
treating more than 2 million with antiretroviral
drugs, supporting care for 12 million people infected
with HIV/AIDS, and training at least 140,000 new health care
workers and paraprofessionals.
attention on women and girls, including stressing the
importance of preventing gender-based violence.
Pamela W. Barnes,
president and CEO of the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric
AIDS Foundation, applauded the bill's target of reaching 80%
of HIV-positive pregnant women with services needed to
prevent transmission to their children. ''We are still
only reaching 34% of pregnant HIV-positive mothers
with the medicine they need to keep their babies
HIV-free,'' she said.
The final product
took months of compromise: Democrats took out a
provision in the existing act requiring that one third of
prevention funds be spent on abstinence education but
allowed for reports to Congress if abstinence and
fidelity spending falls below certain levels.
Conservatives won ''conscience clause'' assurances that
religious groups would not be forced to participate in
programs to which they morally object.
originally proposed doubling the program to $30 billion,
first balked at but later accepted the $50 billion
bill that passed the House in April. The Senate
diverted $2 billion of the $50 billion to programs for
Native American health care and inserted a provision that
more than half of funds for AIDS programs go for
treatment and care.
The Senate also
attached a measure, welcomed by AIDS advocacy groups,
that ends a two-decade-old U.S. policy that has made it
nearly impossible for HIV-positive people to get visas
to this country as immigrants, students, or tourists.
The bill is named
after former House Foreign Affairs Committee chairmen
Henry Hyde, an Illinois Republican, and Tom Lantos, a
California Democrat, who wrote the 2003 bill. Hyde
died last November, and Lantos died in February as he
was working on the new bill. (Jim Abrams, AP with
additional reporting by The Advocate)