House OKs expanded AIDS relief

WASHINGTON – A bipartisan coalition in the House voted Wednesday to significantly expand a popular program aimed at combating HIV and AIDS around the world, renewing the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief by authorizing $50 billion – $20 billion more than the White House requested – over five years.

“There is a moral imperative to combat this epidemic,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

Forty million people worldwide are believed to be HIV-positive, Pelosi said, and an estimated 20 million have died from the AIDS epidemic.

Since the global AIDS initiative began in 2003, focusing on 15 countries primarily in sub-Saharan Africa, 30 million people have been tested or received counseling for HIV, according to government statistics, and 1.4 million have received anti-retroviral medications.

The legislation, which was approved 308-116, required compromise on both sides.

Conservatives gave up a demand that abstinence be the centerpiece of efforts to fight AIDS; when the program began five years ago, the Republican majority in control of Congress included language requiring that one-third of all funds spent on prevention go toward abstinence-related initiatives. The legislation approved Wednesday mandates “balanced funding” to support an ABC strategy – Abstain from sex until marriage, Be faithful and use Condoms.

Liberals agreed to accept some restrictions on activities by family planning organizations. Under the bill, funding may go to family planning clinics to pay for HIV/AIDS testing and education, but not for abortions. Faith-based organizations also will continue to receive funding.

The Senate version of the bill is out of committee and is awaiting floor action.


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