Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) has proposed a bill that would require all HIV programs funded by the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) to address the rapid spread of infection among women and young people. This legislation, titled the PATHWAY Act of 2006, also removes earmarks in the current law requiring 33 percent of funding to go toward “abstinence-until-marriage” programs. Previously this month, a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report confirmed that current PEPFAR funding restrictions undermine efforts to prevent the most HIV infections. Over 47 organizations, including the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE), have given their support to Rep. Lee’s changes to this program, signaling the failure of the Bush Administration’s ABC (Abstain, Be Faithful, Use Condoms) policy to address the feminization of the epidemic.
“The highest rates of new infections throughout sub-Saharan Africa are among women in their twenties and thirties and among youth aged 15-24,” said Rep. Lee. To counter the changing face of the epidemic, the PATHWAY Act proposes to address violence against women, increase access to female-controlled prevention methods, and expand the educational opportunities for women and girls. In addition, the elimination of abstinence policies allows more money to be focused on issues such as the prevention of mother to child transmission.
According to the PATHWAY Act, over 38.6 million people worldwide are infected with HIV/AIDS. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, women are twice as likely to become infected via vaginal intercourse than men and account for 27 percent of the new diagnoses of the disease.