Bush’s Mixed Record on HIV/AIDS

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Heather Hurlburt has a good post on the state of funding for international programs to combat AIDS/HIV. Apparently global spending has risen from $1.6 billion in 2001 to $8.3 billion in 2005, but that will need to climb further—to $20 billion in 2008—in order to provide AIDS “prevention, treatment, and care to everyone who needs it.”

There are some things to take issue with though. Hurlburt wants to give the Bush administration, along with various “religious groups” credit for boosting AIDS funding. Yes, and it’s hard to understate the effects of that. But some of these groups have also done a good deal of harm on this front. Everyone should read Helen Epstein’s investigation into the fight against AIDS in Uganda—a country often touted as a success story. Religious conservatives in the U.S. have fought to suppress funding for contraceptives there, and have pushed abstinence-only education—which doesn’t work—over programs that have proved to be successful, such as Uganda’s “zero grazing” campaign. People are dying because of it.

Meanwhile, the Bush administration has refused to link HIV/AIDS prevention programs with existing reproductive rights networks around the world, even though many public health experts believe that doing so would make these prevention programs much more effective. Antiabortion groups, of course, oppose any such link because they fear it would mean that the U.S. was funding abortion providers, however indirectly. And then there’s this:

Critics of the administration say the so-called “gag rule” it imposed on even mentioning abortion in the context of US-funded reproductive-health programs has confused private groups on the limits for using US funding. They say a provision that at least one-third of American AIDS prevention funding be spent on abstinence-only programs has added to the confusion to a point where some successful AIDS prevention programs have decided to turn down US funds.

The “global gag rule”—which Bush reinstated on his first day in office, and which has consigned millions of women to misery or death—obviously has had a lot of horrible effects, but this is an under-mentioned one, I think. So yes, a good deal of praise is in order for the administration’s efforts on AIDS. But that certainly doesn’t excuse the things that deserve criticism.

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