Some Senate Aides Skeptical About ‘Unusual’ Fund-Matching Condition in Helms’ $500M Amendment to Fight Global AIDS
Some aides to senators who have been "pressing" the Bush administration to increase U.S. funding of international HIV/AIDS initiatives are "skeptical" about Sen. Jesse Helms' (R-N.C.) $500 million donation-match plan to raise international HIV/AIDS spending, which contains an "unusual" provision requiring government funds to be matched "dollar for dollar" by private donations before they could be spent, the New York Times reports. But aides also say his support will facilitate their overall goal of garnering new funding to fight AIDS worldwide. There has been little reaction on Capitol Hill to the plan -- which was announced Sunday in a Washington Post op-ed -- because lawmakers are currently on their spring recess. However, several Senate aides said the plan, which uses the majority of funds to focus on eradicating vertical HIV transmission, is too ambitious and seeks an unheard-of level of matching from private donors. They agreed that additional funding is needed, but noted that the money could be "spent more productively" on medical training and education, instead of focusing, as Helms does, exclusively on mother-to-child transmission. Helms stated in his op-ed that the money could instead be donated to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria if the administration deemed that preferable (Clymer, New York Times, 3/26).
Opinions Weigh In
Although lawmaker reaction has been slow, newspapers, columnists and AIDS groups have weighed in on Helms' plan. Summaries of several reactions appear below:
- New York Times: No other call for additional HIV/AIDS funding "can match the impact" of Helms' recent announcement, a New York Times editorial states, noting that Helms opposed funding in the past and has "long [been] deemed public enemy No. 1 by AIDS advocates." Efforts to reduce vertical HIV transmission have been hampered by the cost of HIV testing and counseling and the cost and logistics of providing infant formula. They have also been held back by "lingering and misguided skepticism" about the safety of nevirapine. The Times states that it "would be a tragedy" if such skepticism "discouraged use of a simple and cheap treatment that can save hundreds of thousands of children each year" (New York Times, 3/26).
- Laura Ofobike, Akron Beacon Journal: "In the race against global AIDS, champions rise from unexpected places," Laura Ofobike, the Beacon Journal's chief editorial writer, states in an op-ed about Helms' $500 million plan, adding that his plan and apology for blocking HIV/AIDS funding in the past may be "for real." She says that Helms' "nearer-my-God-to-thee rationale is a fair reminder ... that a keen sense of our own mortality is always a good motivator to do right by others" and adds that "[i]f advancing age propels the process of understanding forward a little faster, so be it." Ofobike states that it is "ironic" that Helms, who last year wanted to abolish the U.S. Agency for International Development, has now become a proponent of foreign assistance. However, he has finally acknowledged that the "unprecedented economic and military power of the United States must be matched with equal wisdom," she concludes (Ofobike, Akron Beacon Journal, 3/26).
- Global AIDS Alliance: The Global AIDS Alliance called Helms' plan "encouraging" but urged that the proposed funding level be increased to $700 million and that the scope of the proposal be expanded beyond preventing vertical HIV transmission. "It's not enough to solely prevent HIV infection of newborns. We must also provide ongoing treatment of the mothers and fathers living with AIDS, so that they may live to raise their children," GAA Co-Director Dr. Paul Zeitz said in a statement, adding, "A policy that ignores parents' needs for lifesaving triple-drug AIDS treatment is one that fosters greater destruction of families and increases in the number of orphans" (GAA release, 3/25).