Withdrawal of UNFPA Funds Will Hurt HIV/AIDS Efforts, Op-Ed Says
President Bush's decision to withhold $34 million in funding for the United Nations Population Fund will impede the fight against HIV/AIDS in the developing world, Fred Sai, an adviser to the president of Ghana on reproductive health and HIV/AIDS and a member of the board of Population Action International, states in a Los Angeles Times op-ed (Sai, Los Angeles Times, 8/14). Bush announced last month that he was withholding the funds, which were approved as part of a spending bill by Congress and signed by the president in January, due to concerns about UNFPA's alleged involvement in forced sterilizations and abortions in China. A State Department investigative team last month issued a report concluding that UNFPA "did not knowingly support coercive abortions" in China, but the Bush administration stated that "even a seemingly innocent" contribution, such as computer equipment, to China could be used to help enforce the country's one-child policy and therefore decided to permanently withhold the UNFPA funding (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 8/12). Sai writes that the Bush administration's decision will result in the very health outcomes that Bush said he wants to prevent -- "unwanted pregnancies, unsafe abortions and increased dangers for mothers and infants." He adds that less money for UNFPA will also contribute to the continued rise in new HIV infections worldwide. UNFPA has recently sought to expand its HIV/AIDS programs in the developing world, where 95% of new HIV infections occur. Because the agency has "strong relationships with governments and local organizations" and is "known, respected and trusted" by people in developing countries, UNFPA's efforts most likely would have a positive impact on the course of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the developing world, Sai states. He calls the UNFPA's presence a "beacon of hope in this otherwise gloomy picture" and says that the loss of $34 million in funding will impede the agency's HIV/AIDS efforts. Noting that the Senate is considering budget language that would appropriate $50 million to UNFPA next year, Sai writes that this "would be the right thing to do," concluding, "I hope Congress and the American people will indeed restore funding and make clear to the president how unacceptable his decision is" (Los Angeles Times, 8/14).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.