Bush’s Global Gag Rule Casts Shadow over HIV/AIDS Programs

In what seemed like a surprising turn of policy, President Bush announced recently that he would allow organizations that were banned from receiving US funding under the “global gag rule” to receive part of the $15 billion he has proposed to fight HIV/AIDS in Africa and the Caribbean. However, these organizations can only receive the money if they keep their family planning services separate from their HIV/AIDS treatment services. Experts say these restrictions are too limiting and unrealistic for health care practitioners.

“It is ludicrous to expect that organizations in Africa can or should establish separate HIV/AIDS programs in order to receive US funds,” said Dr. Paul Zeitz, executive director of the Global AIDS Alliance in a statement. “From a public health perspective, the best approach is to fully integrate AIDS programs into family planning programs, not separate them. Even in this modified form, the restrictions represent a Washington-imposed mandate that’s unrealistic and costly in the African context.”

On Bush’s third day in office, he reinstated the global gag rule–originally enacted by President Reagan in 1984 and repealed by President Clinton eight years later — which prohibits funding of any overseas programs that provide family planning information, counseling, or abortions. This is the first time that the global gag rule has been applied to HIV/AIDS programs, according to the Global AIDS Alliance. If approved by Congress Bush’s plan would begin with $2 billion in funding for fiscal year 2004, with increases following each year.

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Global AIDS Alliance Press Release 2/19/03; New York Times 2/15/03; Associated Press 2/17/03; Reuters 2/14/03; Los Angeles Times 2/16/03

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