Archbishop Tutu, AIDS Advocates Call on Senate To Pass PEPFAR Reauthorization Legislation
South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu joined other HIV/AIDS advocates Wednesday on a conference call organized by the Global AIDS Alliance and called on the Senate to vote on measures (HR 5501, S 2731) that would reauthorize the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, Reuters reports. According to Reuters, seven Republican senators, led by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), are blocking a vote on the measures (Reuters, 6/18).
The Senate version of the PEPFAR reauthorization bill passed the Foreign Relations Committee in March, and the House version was approved 308-116 in April. Both the Senate and House versions of the bill would reauthorize PEPFAR at $50 billion over five years. However, Coburn and six other Republican senators are blocking the legislation because they are opposed to the legislation's cost and "mission creep" into health and development efforts. In addition, they want language inserted into the measure that would guarantee that 55% of PEPFAR funding goes toward treatment, including antiretroviral drugs. Some advocates have said that they would agree to the treatment language but that efforts to compromise with Coburn have been ineffective (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 6/16). Coburn declined to comment Wednesday, the Tulsa World reports.
Speaking on a conference call Wednesday, Tutu called on the Senate to make "God's world a better place" and to speed the passage of the legislation (Myers, Tulsa World, 6/19). PEPFAR has "already saved millions of lives, and the new legislation has the potential for sustaining a response to build on all of the gains that have already been achieved," Tutu said. He added, "I plead to the leaders, the members of Congress -- please, please, for the sake of the world, for the sake of the future, expedite the passing of the relevant legislation." Tutu earlier this month also wrote letters to Senate leaders expressing his concerns about the impasse (Reuters, 6/18). Annette Tillemann-Dick -- daughter of the late Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), who, along with late Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.), created draft legislation to reauthorize PEPFAR -- said Senate leaders should push the bill to a floor vote as soon as possible to save millions of lives in Africa and in other parts of the world. She added, "This bill really is an opportunity for the good people of America to do something valuable" (Oremus, San Jose Mercury News, 6/19).
Paul Zeitz, head of the Global AIDS Alliance, said, "Negotiations are underway now." He added that presumptive Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) could play a key role in breaking the impasse. "It's in the interests of the United States and the Democratic Congress that [President] Bush go to" the Group of Eight industrialized nations summit in Japan next month "with this legislation in hand," Zeitz said. Joanne Carter, associate executive director of RESULTS, said, "Passing this bill will be a signal to the (G8) countries that the U.S. is fully committed and that they should also move forward boldly with their own commitments" (Lobe, Inter Press Service, 6/18).