Global Health Reproductive Rights Womens Rights

US Assistance to Global Health Programs: The Battle Continues

UNFPA, the only UN Agency Dealing With Family Planning, Was Targeted to Lose All Funding. Image Credit: Photo of woman receiving UNFPA family hygiene kit from Flickr user Sardovaya Sri Lanka.

The recent hostile budget process targeted women’s health programs globally as much as it did domestically. International family planning was targeted for a 40% cut and UNFPA funding eliminated in the House majority proposals alongside a total elimination of Title X and Planned Parenthood funding.

The final amount approved for FY 2011 by Congress for IRH/FP was cut to $615 million, just a 5% cut from FY 2010 and included $40 million for UNFPA reduced from $55 in 2010.

But the battle continues. Despite the cuts, this can still be considered a victory considering the strong opposition forces advocating draconian cuts and elimination of all UNFPA funding.

Now the advocacy of the International Family Planning Coalition in Washington is more important than ever, and policymakers and reproductive health and rights groups are not wasting any time to protect international family planning funding for FY 2012.

Senator Barbara Boxer got the ball rolling by circulating a “Dear Colleague” letter to both the Senate and House Chairmen on the Committee on Appropriations, the Honorable Lindsey Graham and Patrick Leahy, urging them to increase US assistance to critical programs on international reproductive health and rights:

…As you prepare the Fiscal Year 2012 State and Foreign Operations Appropriations bill, we respectfully request that you fund international family planning and reproductive health programs at least at $769 million, including $47.5 million for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

Boxer’s letter, signed by 17 US Senators including two appropriators, not only described the importance and benefits of the US maintaining its position as a leader in global health, but stipulated the funding should be increased to the above levels “without imposing any new restrictions.”

Along with international family planning funding, it appears as though the US may also finally be making much needed changes to PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, the largest US global health program.

According to an ACLU blog post entitled, “God Will Protect You From Sexual Temptation…Or Not,” after years of promoting abstinence-only messages, and advocating the ABC model (abstinence, be faithful, condoms as a last resort) in some of the world’s poorest, and most highly infected African nations, the US may be on course to shift course:

…We recently met with USAID and asked them to stop funding religious abstinence-only-until-marriage programs overseas. They indicated that these programs are coming to a close later this year, and that they will instead focus on innovative strategies for combating HIV/AIDS.

It should be noted that the ACLU found out about the US Government’s “misuse of funds” two years ago after reading the Inspector General of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) report:

…The Inspector General noted several instances of biblical references in government-funded curricula, and USAID itself admitted that some of the abstinence-only-until-marriage programs it funds “reflect a religious perspective and include religiously infused materials and religious references.” One of the curricula includes an optional Biblical verse for “reflection or memorization,” the purpose of which is to show students that “God has a plan for sex and this plan will help you and protect you from harm.”

To find out more, the ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Act, followed by a lawsuit.

I highly recommend reading the ACLU blog post detailing their experience and what they found. Let’s hope that the State Department makes good on what they told the ACLU, that these programs are indeed going to stop this year. A global pandemic like HIV/AIDS needs real solutions that go beyond Biblical passages.

I think we can all say Amen to that.

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