The Senate in the early morning hours passed a bill authorizing $15 billion over the next five years for HIV/AIDS programs in Africa and the Caribbean. The bill, HR 1298, was passed by the House earlier this month. The Senate defeated 52-45 an amendment sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) to strike a requirement that one-third of the money be spent on abstinence programs. “When it comes to AIDS, prevention is the name of the game,” Feinstein said, according to the Los Angeles Times. “This is where this bill is flawed.”
Other amendments that were defeated included a requirement that antiretroviral drugs be purchased at the lowest price possible; a provision to strengthen US support for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria; and a measure to provide $250 million in food aid. The Senate did pass an amendment sponsored by Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE) to increase funding for debt relief. The House is expected to approve the Biden amendment next week and send the bill on to the President to sign. The Senate left in the bill a provision sponsored by Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-NY) to provide funding to educate men and boys about gender equality and respect for women and girls.
President Bush as well as Democratic and Republican lawmakers have pointed to the success of Uganda’s strategy against AIDS, which places an emphasis on abstinence and monogamy as well as condom use, as a model for this legislation. In 1991, 15 percent of Uganda’s population was infected with AIDS, and ten years later the rate was down to 5 percent, which conservatives attribute to the abstinence emphasis in the program. However, “while abstinence has played an important role in Uganda, it has not been a magic bullet,” according to Dr. David Serwadda, a physician and researcher on HIV/AIDS in Uganda and co-chair of the Global HIV Prevention Working Group, according to the Washington Post. “[W]e must not forget that abstinence is not always possible for people at risk, especially women. In much of the developing world, women have very limited social, economic, and political power, and they are often highly vulnerable to HIV infection,” Dr. Serwadda wrote in a Post commentary. “The AIDS epidemic will not go away by itself. It will take foresight, leadership, and a commitment to using proven prevention strategies to stop new infections.”