Reaction to Sen. Jesse Helms’ International AIDS Funding Proposal Continues
Reaction in newspapers to Sen. Jesse Helms' (R-N.C.) plan to allot $500 million toward eradicating vertical HIV transmission in developing countries continues. Summaries of four opinions appear below:
- Minneapolis Star Tribune: Coming from "America's most ardent -- and most powerful -- opponent of foreign aid," Helms' spending proposal is "most welcome," a Star Tribune editorial says. Although the paper notes that Helms' "change of heart" is limited to fighting AIDS overseas and calls his continued resistance to helping gays with HIV/AIDS domestically "exasperating and regrettable," it continues, "Helms' views on homosexuality no longer really matter, given his upcoming retirement -- and do not lessen the effect of his new willingness to help where the need for it is the most acute." Helms and co-sponsor Sen Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) should be "talked out of" a plan to make the U.S. donation contingent on dollar-for-dollar matching contributions from the private sector, the editorial adds, but it praises the senators for being "flexible about how the money is distributed" (Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 3/29).
- Newsday: The "shock[ing]" vow by Helms -- "for years the prince of darkness on many AIDS issues" -- to seek $500 million to fight vertical HIV transmission in Africa is a "welcome conversion," a Newsday editorial says. Conceding that the money is "only ... a start" in effectively fighting AIDS, the editorial says it would nonetheless "make a major difference" for the global AIDS fund (Newsday, 3/29). The fund has received requests for a total of $1.15 billion in aid but has only $700 million to $800 million to distribute in its first round of grants (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 3/26). Newsday notes that "yes, Helms does seem more anguished about AIDS abroad" than in the United States. "Still," the editorial concludes, "the inherent decency in the senator's new direction cannot be denied. Washington must now make this appropriation happen" (Newsday, 3/29).
- Winston-Salem Journal: Helms' plan "could save the lives of countless babies," a Winston-Salem Journal editorial states, adding that his support "should virtually ensure that the Senate will approve the money" and gives the package a "good chance" of winning approval from the House and President Bush. However, AIDS advocates "understandably" remain skeptical of the plan, "raising such questions as why AIDS is more terrible for Africans than Americans, or why Helms doesn't have sympathy for AIDS victims who are homosexuals." The answer to their questions "may be that Helms has come a long way, and it's probably as far as he can go," the editorial states, noting that Helms is "unlikely to change his ingrained beliefs ... about morality and values." While that may be "deeply disappointing" to AIDS advocates, "it's no reason not to embrace his change of heart about the responsibility of the United States to do more to stop the needless and devastating spread of HIV from mothers to children in poor countries," the Journal concludes (Winston-Salem Journal, 3/27).
- Holly Burkhalter, Physicians for Human Rights: Helms' plan could prevent many infant and child deaths from AIDS-related causes, but "if funds are not also made available to buy medicines to treat child-bearing women, their babies will experience the worst thing that can happen to young children: losing their mother," Holly Burkhalter, director of advocacy for Physicians for Human Rights, writes in a letter to the Washington Post, calling treatment for those with HIV/AIDS "the best orphan prevention program money can buy." She notes that 80% of women in the 14 African nations hardest hit by HIV/AIDS receive some form of prenatal care and that 74% of children in the same nations are vaccinated against measles. The same health care providers who provide those services can be trained to administer and monitor AIDS drugs, she says, adding that Congress and the Bush administration should "provide generous assistance for both through the Global AIDS Fund" (Burkhalter, Washington Post, 3/28).