HIV/AIDS Prominent on the Legislative Radar

HIV/AIDS has re-emerged on the political radar, prompted largely by President Bush’s State of the Union address last month. Yesterday, both chambers of Congress approved the $397.4 billion fiscal year (FY) 2003 omnibus spending bill, reported to include $1.4 billion for international AIDS programs, according to Kaisernetwork. Bush’s FY 2004 budget proposal unveiled last week, allocates $450 million for his Africa and Caribbean HIV/AIDS initiative and recommends $200 million for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and $300 million for mother-to-child HIV prevention, according to Kaisernetwork.org. However, critics charge that the Bush plan, which diverts monies from the Global Fund and instead funnels 90 percent of new funds directly to fourteen African and Caribbean nations, actually “reverses progress in Africa,” by “robbing one part of the budget from essential resources to pay for a new idea,” said Paul Zeitz, executive director of Global AIDS Alliance, reported Kaisernetwork.org. The Wall Street Journal conceded, saying the president’s budget “would reduce by about the same amount the funding that aides had said would be sought for a separate development-aid initiative for poor nations,” reported the Nation.

Sen. Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN)–who last year sponsored the unsuccessful US Leadership to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria Act, earmarking $2.2 of $4.5 billion for the Global Fund in FY 2003 and 2004–withdrew his support yesterday, backing instead White House recommendations. His new weakened proposal removes “all specific funding levels,” eliminates congressional supervision, and nebulously doles the Fund “such sums as may be necessary,” reported Newsday.

At the 10th Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in Boston this week, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that during 2000 and 2001, the number of AIDS diagnoses increased 1 percent nationwide. Data from 25 reporting states indicate that HIV diagnoses rose 8 percent from 1999 to 2001. The jump in AIDS cases marks the first increase since 1993. CDC deputy director of the National Center for HIV, STD and TB Prevention cautioned, “We don’t want to be alarmist, but now is the time to address this.” Roughly 280,000 of the 850,000 to 950,000 people in the US who are HIV-positive, are unaware of their infection.

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Kaisernetwork 2/4/03, 2/10/03, 2/12/03, 2/14/03; Washington Post 2/5/03; Newsday 2/13/03; Feminist Daily News Wire

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