White House Defends Contribution to Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria as Senators and AIDS Activists Call for More Money
The Bush administration yesterday at a hearing on Capitol Hill defended its contributions to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, saying that the United States was the first nation to contribute to the fund and has so far made the largest contribution. But senators and AIDS activists urged the government to provide more resources, AP/Newsday reports. Speaking before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson said that the United States, which allotted $100 million in last year's budget and $200 million in the fiscal year 2002 budget for the fund, has made a "tremendously generous contribution," especially in light of budget pressures resulting from the war on terrorism. Paula Dobriansky, under secretary of state for global affairs, added that the $200 million contribution recently allotted for FY 2003 "continue[s] to set an example for other governments and potential donors" (Meckler, AP/Newsday, 2/13). White House spokesperson Scott McClellan added that President Bush would like to see "non-state entities," such as private companies, nongovernmental groups, faith-based organizations and foundations, donate to the fund (Zwillich, Reuters Health, 2/13).
However, many senators and AIDS activists voiced concern that the U.S. contribution is not large enough. Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.), the chair of the committee, said, "We quite frankly look like pikers when the (Global AIDS Fund) number comes up, relative to the need." He acknowledged that the government already spends close to $1 billion annually on international AIDS efforts -- most of which is distributed through USAID and the CDC -- but said it is not enough to combat "one of the most, if not the most, pressing health concerns of our time." Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) echoed Biden's call for more funding, though he cautioned against "putting too much funding in one place" (Sternberg, USA Today, 2/14). He added that the $200 million "does not reflect the leadership role our country ought to take" in the fight against AIDS. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan yesterday spoke privately with the committee, and although he did not make a specific request for more money, he consistently noted that the U.S. contribution "has a significant leveraging effect," according to Biden, who added, "The more we do, the more other countries will do" (Stolberg, New York Times, 2/14). Meanwhile, AIDS activists, such as Fred Dillon of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, said that the government was able to "find $40 billion" for the war on terrorism but has not faced AIDS with the same urgency. "We need the same kind of response for global AIDS," Dillon said (USA Today, 2/14). Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) said that AIDS poses a significant national security risk on top of its humanitarian ramifications. He said that AIDS orphans, "with little guidance in their lives," will be "prime candidates" for terrorist groups searching for new recruits (AP/Newsday, 2/13). Speaking at the Senate hearing, Andrew Natsios, head of USAID, indicated that the administration may be willing to increase its contribution if the fund proves successful in its first year. "If this global trust fund works as well as we hope it will, then we should put more money into it. But it hasn't proven itself yet," he cautioned (New York Times, 2/14). A kaisernetwork.org HealthCast of the hearing is available online.
Global CARE Act
Meanwhile, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) announced yesterday that he had introduced the Global CARE Act, legislation designed to "increase coordination between U.S. agencies" working on international HIV/AIDS efforts to "ensure better accountability for the investment of human and financial capital in the disease." The bill, which would allocate $2.5 billion to U.S. agencies working with HIV/AIDS and to the global fund, would also provide for treatment, prevention and care of people with HIV/AIDS and assistance for AIDS orphans. "With this bill we seek to ensure that the various agencies we fund to provide AIDS assistance are making the most of the money we appropriate, that they are not duplicating efforts, that they are learning from each others' programmatic experience and research in order to implement the best practices and that they are accountable to Congress and the American people for achieving measurable goals and objectives," Durbin said in the announcement (Durbin release, 2/13).