Helms to Introduce Amendment to Homeland Security Budget That Would Provide Additional $500M to Fight AIDS Worldwide
After Congress returns from its spring recess April 8, "[k]ey senators," including Sens. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) and Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), plan to introduce legislation that would add $500 million to the United States' efforts to fight HIV/AIDS in Africa and other areas of the developing world, the Washington Post reports. The funding would be on top of the $1 billion proposed in President Bush's fiscal year 2003 budget blueprint to combat HIV/AIDS worldwide and would be offered as an amendment to the administration's request for additional funds for homeland security and the war in Afghanistan. The planned amendment has yet to be written, but Helms detailed the budget proposal in a Post op-ed yesterday (Kamen, Washington Post, 3/24). Helms wrote that the main goal of the additional funding is to provide treatment for "every HIV-positive pregnant woman" because there is "no reason" why mother-to-child HIV transmission cannot be eliminated or nearly eliminated just like polio was 40 years ago. He continued, "Drugs and therapies [to prevent vertical HIV transmission] are already provided to many in Africa and other afflicted areas. Only more resources are needed to expand this most humanitarian of projects." Under the plan, $500 million would go to the USAID and would be contingent on "dollar-for-dollar" matching funds or "in-kind" donations from the private sector. Helms added that private sector donations, such as Boehringer Ingelheim's contributions of nevirapine to several countries, are "an essential part of a successful anti-AIDS strategy." He said that the amendment would give the Bush administration the "flexibility" to deal with obstacles such as a lack of health infrastructure and uncooperative governments in some developing nations. For example, the amendment would allow funds to be transferred to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria if the administration determines that distributing money through the fund would be more effective. Conceding that in the past he has opposed foreign aid, Helms said that, in this case, he feels "we cannot turn away when we see our fellow man in need" (Helms, Washington Post, 3/24).
Although AIDS activists have been doubtful that the United States would be able to give any more financial support to international anti-AIDS programs this year, Helms' "strong public commitment" to fund anti-AIDS programs might ensure an "overwhelming vote in the Senate, giving the effort momentum to carry it through the House and gain White House approval," the Post reports. If the amendment passes, the total amount allocated to fight AIDS overseas "would be approximately double U.S. expenditures last year." Regardless of the amendment's future, the Post reports that AIDS advocates were "stunned and heartened" by Helms' plan. WHO spokesperson Jon Liden said that Helms' plan is "absolutely fantastic news." He added that it shows that "U.S. leaders have put their money where their mouth is." Harvard economics professor Jeffrey Sachs said, "Helms put his finger on [the problem]: What is lacking is the money" (Washington Post, 3/24).