New Bill Calls for Debt Reduction From the World Bank, IMF
California Reps. Barbara Lee (D) and Maxine Waters (D) on Tuesday introduced a bill (HR 1567) that calls for debt relief for the world's poorest nations. Titled the "Debt Cancellation for HIV/AIDS Response Act," the bill would allow the U.S. Treasury Secretary to instruct the U.S. executive directors at the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to "use the voice, vote and influence of the United States" to push debt relief efforts. Countries eligible to receive debt relief include all nations eligible to participate in the IMF's Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative (HIPC) and any other country "heavily affected by HIV/AIDS." The bill "encourag[es]" countries receiving debt relief to spend "a significant proportion of the savings from debt cancellation" on HIV/AIDS response efforts and "other health priorities." Efforts to fight HIV/AIDS should be based on "best practices," incorporating aspects such as prevention, care, treatment and "affordable" antiretroviral drugs. The bill suggests that the World Bank and the IMF use their reserve accounts or net income to offset the costs of debt cancellation. Until debt cancellation can be enacted, the bill calls for an "immediate moratorium" on debt service payments and interest accrual for those countries eligible for debt relief. In addition, the bill would allow U.S. officials at the IMF and World Bank to "oppose and vote against" any of the institutions' programs that charge user fees or service charges for "primary education or primary health care, including prevention and treatment efforts for HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis and infant, child and maternal well-being." The bill states that the treasury secretary must work with other governmental agencies and nongovernmental organizations to develop strategies that "counter corruption" in the countries eligible for debt relief. The bill also would require the treasury secretary to present a report to several congressional committees detailing "all progress in debt cancellation efforts" and the effects these actions have had on funding for HIV/AIDS programs and projects (HR 1567 text, 4/26).
Congress Members Pledge Support
Speaking at a press conference yesterday, Lee said that debt cancellation for poor countries hit hard by HIV/AIDS must be moved "to the forefront of our international agenda." Waters added, "The IMF and the World Bank have not done their part to free impoverished nations from debt." Noting that the 11 countries that have already undergone debt relief have increased spending on HIV/AIDS by $43 million, Lee said, "Debt cancellation can and must be used to fight HIV/AIDS and alleviate poverty." Lee stated that the bill represents an additional component of the AIDS Marshall Plan signed by former President Bill Clinton last year (Meredith McGroarty, Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 4/26). That plan, the House version of which (HR 3519) was co-sponsored by Lee (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 5/16/00), created a World Bank AIDS Trust Fund to provide grants to nations "most drastically affected by the AIDS crisis" (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 8/21/00). The debt relief proposal crafted by Lee and Waters has gained the support of several members of Congress, including Reps. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Eva Clayton (D-N.C.) and Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), as well as U.S. Virgin Islands Del. Donna Christian-Christensen (D). Sanders said, "The international financial organizations cannot turn their backs on one of the greatest tragedies of our time" (McGroarty, Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 4/26). Christian-Christensen added, "The forced cutbacks in the very basic social services have weakened health and education systems and undermined efforts to cope with the AIDS pandemic. ... If we are to help the people of Africa and the Caribbean to address this epidemic we must provide them with debt cancellation with the stipulation -- as the Lee/Waters bill provides -- that at least a portion of the savings from debt relief be linked to programs to respond to and address the HIV/AIDS problem" (Christian-Christensen statement, 4/25). Lee concluded by stressing the importance of debt cancellation for poor nations, stating, "AIDS kills and debt kills. Together we must kill debt to kill AIDS."
AIDS Groups Jubilant
A number of AIDS and African advocacy groups have lent their support to the bill, including the African Services Committee, the Global AIDS Alliance, Jubilee USA Network, the Washington Office on Africa and the Episcopal Church of the United States (McGroarty, Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 4/26). Rev. Leon Spencer, executive director of the Washington Office on Africa, said that Lee's bill possesses a "broad vision," adding that it "encourages," rather than "demand[s]" that countries spend a significant portion of their savings from debt relief on HIV/AIDS. He said, "It is right for there to be active encouragement. It is also right to respect the integrity of Africa partners to set priorities in human development without the heavy hand of a new -- albeit more thoughtful -- version of structural adjustment" (Washington Office on Africa release, 4/25). The Global AIDS Alliance stated that it would like to see Congress and President Bush lend their support to the bill and other debt relief efforts. The organization also advocated a "three-pronged campaign" to "accelerate action" in fighting HIV/AIDS in Africa. The campaign calls for Bush to enact a $2.5 billion "emergency" appropriation to fight HIV/AIDS in Africa; use the "voting power" of the United States to bring about debt cancellation; and invest in a global bulk procurement system to provide citizens of developing nations with cheaper AIDS drugs (GAA release, 4/24). Yesterday, Jubilee USA sponsored a "national call-in day" for debt relief, urging its members to call the White House and tell Bush to "use U.S. leverage" to bring about relief policies (Jubilee Web site, 4/26). Meanwhile, the Health GAP Coalition, the African Services Committee, ACT UP/New York and other AIDS advocacy groups have planned a "massive march and rally" calling for debt relief in New York City on June 23 (Stop Global AIDS Now release, 4/25).
Rep. Joseph Hoeffel (D-Pa.), a member of the International Relations Committee, on Wednesday sent a letter to House and Senate conferees urging them to "maintain" funding for HIV/AIDS programs in Africa. The letter says that the Senate has already allocated nearly $1 billion a year toward fighting HIV/AIDS, but the House version of the budget resolution "does not include similar levels of funding." The letter states that the money allocated by the Senate will be "key to financing a 'major initiative' to combat AIDS which reportedly is being developed" by the Department of State and HHS and urges lawmakers to maintain the funding levels proposed by the Senate (Hoeffel letter, 4/26).