Bush Administration’s HIV/AIDS Funding Cuts Cater to ‘Religious Right,’ Opinion Piece Says
The Bush administration's recent cuts to funding and the number of government representatives allowed to attend the XV International AIDS Conference scheduled for July 11-16 in Bangkok, Thailand, and the Global Health Council annual meeting are signs that the administration and some lawmakers are "playing a nasty game of political football with AIDS and global health issues" to "aid and comfort" the "religious right," Laurie Garrett, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, writes in a Los Angeles Times opinion piece (Garrett, Los Angeles Times, 5/30). HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson in March announced that the agency plans to spend $500,000 to send 50 people to the conference, down from the $3.6 million it spent to send 236 people to the 2002 conference in Barcelona, Spain. Half of the $500,000 will be spent to send about 80 African scientists to the conference, and the remaining money will be used to send 20 scientists each from NIH and CDC and 10 HHS staff members (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 5/10). In addition, the administration withdrew its funding for the GHC annual convention in Washington, D.C. -- about 33% of the meeting's budget -- marking the first time in the council's 31-year history that the federal government has not supported the conference financially, Garrett says. The convention, which has the theme, "Youth and Health: Generation on the Edge," is scheduled to include sessions about sex education, birth control and drugs, and speakers are expected to include officials from Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the U.N. Population Fund, MTV and MoveOn.org -- "groups that the Traditional Values Coalition, the Eagle Forum and other right-to-life groups see as promoting birth control and abortion," according to Garrett.
'Obligation' To Fight HIV/AIDS
Although the Bush administration's policies may not advocate programs like GHC's annual conference, "targeting the AIDS conference seems to fly directly in the face of Bush's own pronouncements," Garrett says. She adds that "there is evidence that ... the AIDS-meeting cuts reflect the agenda of the religious right," citing a letter that Rep. Mark Souder (R) and other Republicans recently sent to conference organizers (Los Angeles Times, 5/30). The lawmakers expressed dismay that no representatives from the Vatican were invited to speak at the XIV International AIDS Conference in 2002, noting that Catholic charities provide 25% of HIV/AIDS patient care worldwide. The lawmakers also said that the conference sessions placed too much emphasis on prevention programs that focus on condoms and not enough on faith-based AIDS prevention programs (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 5/10). Garrett concludes, "It is intolerable to undermine American support of international health meetings for the purpose of promoting a narrow American agenda. With more than 70 million people living with HIV today, and with every new generation of adolescents in particular peril, the United States has an obligation to address teen health education, to make common cause with the world's scientists and to fund and fight the war for treatment, prevention and a cure for AIDS" (Los Angeles Times, 5/30).