June 24, 2008

Wenski: Save lives, move AIDS bill now

By Bishop Thomas Wenski *

By Bishop Thomas Wenski *

It might seem relatively easy for Congress to reauthorize the lifesaving program for global HIV/AIDS that has enjoyed wide bipartisan support. But for many reasons, it hasn't been.

 

By all measures, the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), now 5 years old and up for reauthorization, is a global success story. Its achievements include: saving the lives of 1.5 million men, women and children through antiretroviral treatment; extending care to 6.5 million people affected by HIV, including more than 2.5 million orphans and vulnerable children; and providing prevention services to tens of millions more, including programs emphasizing abstinence and being faithful.

 

The House of Representatives overcame challenges coming from both the left and the right to pass a reauthorization bill with broad bipartisan support. Some on the left had introduced extraneous new provisions that diverted the program's lifesaving mission; some on the right had balked at the price tag of $50 billion. But both sides centered their attention on the need to save lives and to respect deeply held moral convictions. The Senate needs to do the same.

 

Full Senate consideration of the bill has been delayed for months, but the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Catholic Relief Services believe there are both the will and the means to resolve the outstanding issues. And for both moral and practical reasons, the Senate must resolve these issues now and move the bill forward with bipartisan agreement.

 

Many institutions providing HIV and AIDS prevention, care and treatment in sub-Saharan Africa have limited independent resources and cannot make programming decisions without a firm funding commitment. The risk of a hiatus in assured funding, however brief, could disrupt treatment regimens, undermine the credibility of health-care institutions, and endanger lives.

 

The proposed $50 billion funding level represents an increase of about $3.5 billion per year over current levels and would finance a modest growth in the number of patients in U.S.-supported HIV/AIDS treatment programs. It would also strengthen efforts to combat two other deadly diseases, malaria and tuberculosis, and provide essential funding for additional health-care workers. According to the World Health Organization, malaria kills more than 1 million children under the age of 5 each year in sub-Saharan Africa, and as U.N. officials recently noted, inadequate attention to the spread of tuberculosis is undermining recent gains made against the spread of AIDS.

 

When President Bush visited Africa in February, the leaders and the peoples of Africa universally hailed the program as a major achievement of U.S. foreign policy. Not only has it saved lives, the world has seen in the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief a true act of American compassion and leadership. This U.S. global initiative has also raised the bar for other donor countries to respond with generosity to the AIDS pandemic.

 

The time has come for the Senate to resolve outstanding questions and to reach a bipartisan consensus to reauthorize the program before the Fourth of July recess. Passage of an improved Tom Lantos and Henry J. Hyde United States Global Leadership Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria Reauthorization Act will extend the positive legacy of American compassion and leadership.

 

PEPFAR has a proven track record of success. Delay is not an option. The lives of millions who struggle with these terrible diseases are at risk. It is essential for the Senate to act now to renew and expand this life-saving initiative.

 

The original story can be found at Florida Catholic.

Most Rev. Thomas Wenski is bishop of Orlando, Florida.

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