Sunday, December 8, 2002

Area's lawmakers give Congress' stance on AIDS aid



Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio:

First, let me say how impressed I am by Bono's compassion and by his dedication, and commitment and to relieving to the African HIV/AIDS crisis. I have been privileged to work with Bono and my colleagues, including conservatives, moderates and liberals, on making sure the United States does its part to help alleviate and some day end this human tragedy.

I attended an event at the White House with President Bush and Bono, where the president said this about Bono: "Here's what I know about him: first, he's a good musician; secondly, he is willing to use his position in a responsible way. He is willing to lead to achieve what his heart tells him, and that is nobody - nobody - should be living in poverty and hopelessness in the world." I agree with the president.

During my time in the Senate, I have been committed to helping end the human suffering caused by preventable, treatable diseases and acute, persistent famine in Africa and elsewhere around the world. I have worked on legislative efforts to feed children, to provide loans to businesses in developing countries, to assist farmers, and to fight against the spread of disease.

The United States Leadership Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria Act (S. 2525), of which I am an original cosponsor, would promote a comprehensive approach to fighting HIV/AIDS, TB, and malaria in Africa and around the world. We have a moral obligation to fight the spread of these terrible diseases, and so I have consistently supported record funding increases in the global fight against disease.

The growing problem of HIV/AIDS right here in our own hemisphere is often overlooked in our global efforts to combat HIV/AIDS. While it is important to focus attention on disease prevention and famine relief in Sub-Sahara Africa, it is equally important that we focus our efforts on combating these epidemics in our own backyard. An estimated 420,000 individuals in the Caribbean and another 1.4 million in Latin America are living with HIV/AIDS. In Haiti alone, an estimated 250,000 Haitians, out of a population of only 8 million, are currently living with AIDS.

On more than a dozen trips to Caribbean and Latin American nations, such as Haiti and Guatemala, I have seen up close the human faces of those dealing with the HIV/AIDS crisis and living in a state of desperate poverty. It is utterly heartbreaking.

In addition to supporting significantly increased funding to combat the worldwide HIV/AIDS epidemic, I support the pursuit of long-term solutions to the world food crisis.

To supplement feeding programs, I believe that hunger can be combated and economic development can be encouraged through development of the agriculture and business sectors of impoverished nations.

My Africa: Seeds of Hope Act (H.R. 4283), which became law in 1998, promotes small-scale agricultural and rural development in Africa, so that the United States can help the African people help themselves. And, my Microenterprise for Self-Reliance Act (H.R 1143), which is also law, provides loans to small business entrepreneurs in impoverished countries.

We must not ignore our responsibility to help end human suffering, particularly the suffering of children here in the United States or anywhere in the world. We must not rest until we have done all we can do to help.

Rep. Rob Portman, R-Terrace Park:

Given Bono's career as a singer, it might be easy to dismiss his message on the AIDS issue. But the fact remains that the AIDS epidemic in Africa is a serious problem, and it is only getting worse. Health officials estimate that 42 million people worldwide are infected with the HIV virus, and 75 percent of those people live in sub-Saharan Africa.

This disease is not only responsible for millions of deaths, it also undermines social, economic and political systems. It is difficult to promote stability in a region when so many of its people are living with an incurable and deadly illness.

Sometimes the United States is criticized for not doing enough to fight the spread of AIDS, but this ignores the facts. The United States has pledged $500 million to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, an international effort that combines private and public resources to combat the spread of these infectious diseases.

The United States is also the leading contributor to worldwide AIDS research, and these efforts are only increasing.

Likewise, U.S. pharmaceutical companies are on the forefront developing new treatments for people living with HIV.

Our federal government does not have unlimited resources however, and we cannot afford to write blank checks to every worthy cause.

While funding critical programs is crucial, I also think we must be careful, or risk falling into the trap of believing that funding alone is going to solve this problem.

The simple fact is that our best weapon in the war against AIDS is communication. This virus spreads the most when people lack basic knowledge of it and how it is spread.

That is why I join Secretary of State Colin Powell and others who have urged political opinion leaders from every level of our societies to speak out. We need more communication, and we need better communication.

Delivering accurate, life-saving information to people of every nation can help halt the spread of this disease.

In Uganda, we've seen just how effective grassroots communication can be. There, President Museveni has spoken out about AIDS at every opportunity and encouraged other governmental leaders there to do the same.

The result of this unprecedented communication effort has been that the AIDS infection rate in Uganda has fallen by 50 percent since 1992.

In the coming years, I will continue to support funding efforts when necessary. But I will also continue to support grassroots efforts that effectively spread the word about the disease.

Giving people information about the disease is one of the surest ways to prevent it from spreading.

Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Cincinnati:

Having served on the House International Relations Subcommittee on Africa and traveled to Sub-Saharan Africa, I've met with several African leaders and seen firsthand the dire circumstances wrought upon the region by the widespread nature of the AIDS crisis. This situation has been exacerbated by the terrible economic conditions plaguing many African nations.

Unfortunately, U.S. tax dollars (in the form of foreign aid) have too often gone to pad the coffers of military dictators rather than reach the people they are intended to help.

That's why the most effective method to improve conditions on the continent is to reduce reliance on foreign aid programs and promote economic independence for African nations.

To facilitate the transition of African nations from development assistance to economic self-reliance, Congress enacted the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act in 2000. The legislation is intended to serve as a catalyst for increased trade between the U.S. and Africa through the negotiation of free trade agreements.

Hopefully, by encouraging trade and market reforms, the U.S. can help move these nations out of poverty for the first time while promoting democracy and human rights initiatives.

Additionally, there is a growing risk that the rapid expansion of AIDS cases in developing nations could lead to a worldwide epidemic.

During my tenure as Congressional representative to the United Nations General Assembly, I participated in meetings examining the devastating impact this epidemic is having on children throughout the world.

To assist in the struggle against the growing AIDS crisis, the House passed the Global Access to HIV/AIDS Prevention, Awareness, Education, and Treatment Act last December. The legislation would help combat AIDS worldwide through the creation of a comprehensive prevention and education program as well as a pilot program for the treatment of those in developing countries infected with the disease.

Rep. John Boehner, R-West Chester:

Bono's campaign is certainly an admirable one, and it has the potential to be quite effective, as do many other worthy celebrity-led efforts.

In my view, one of our best opportunities for progress against HIV/AIDS lies in preventing mothers from passing on the HIV virus to their children. Worldwide, close to 2,000 babies are infected with HIV every day, during pregnancy, birth, or through breast-feeding.

Most of those infected will die before their fifth birthday. To combat this trend, the Bush Administration has proposed to make $500 million available to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV.

This new effort will allow us to treat one million women annually, and nearly cut in half mother-to-child transmission in target countries within the next five years.

I also support the president's plan to increase development assistance to sub-Saharan Africa. It is imperative to ensure the political and economic systems are in place to sustain these investments, which is why our nation has long taken the lead on this issue.

Just as important, however - and this is where the message of Bono's campaign can be most effective - we ought to encourage the private sector to play a role in this battle.

Private American citizens and foundations provide over $34 billion in global development assistance each year. The president has spoken at length about the value of service to others; it's been a cornerstone of his administration.

An approach involving both the public and private organizations is a wise one.

Rep. Ken Lucas, D-Richwood:

The United States has a long tradition of providing humanitarian aid relief for all countries throughout the world. Today, the AIDS epidemic has reached catastrophic levels, and Africa has been especially impacted.

The United Nations reports that 29.4 million adults and children are infected with the HIV virus in Sub-Saharan Africa, which has about 10 percent of the world's population but more than 70 percent of the worldwide total of infected people.

Experts relate the severity of the African AIDS epidemic to the region's poverty and ill-equipped health systems. The gravity of this epidemic is eroding the ability of households to cope with increasing food shortages by causing labor losses, the depletion of assets, and the weakening of social support networks.

From my perspective, initiatives that we support to fight the AIDS epidemic in Africa should focus on a comprehensive approach. AIDS experts emphasize a variety of economic and social factors in explaining Africa's AIDS epidemic, placing primary blame on the region's poverty.

To reduce the impact of this epidemic in Africa, we must undertake an integrated approach that is focused on treatment, prevention, and economic development.

Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind.:

The AIDS/HIV pandemic is a global crisis that has especially devastated Africa and its people. Africa is home to 10 percent of the world's population but more than 70 percent of the world's HIV infected people. Beyond the awful human toll AIDS has in Africa, there is also a direct impact on our economy in Indiana and across America.

The AIDS pandemic endangers export markets for Hoosier farmers and undermines stability in already volatile regions.

The numbers of lives lost and people affected are especially staggering.

More than twenty-five million adults and children in Africa are infected with the HIV virus, more than any other region in the world, and more than seventeen million Africans have lost their lives to AIDS.

More than 12.1 million African children have lost either or both of their parents to AIDS and that number is expected to grow to 15 million by the end of this decade.

There is, however, reason for hope. Several U.S. pharmaceutical companies are beginning to test pilot distribution and administrative protocol programs.

This is critical for combating the pandemic and for respecting the intellectual property rights concerns of leading pharmaceutical producers in the U.S.

But more must be done. That's why, this year, I introduced with Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kansas bipartisan legislation that speaks clearly to the tragedy of the AIDS/HIV pandemic and the need for the United States to lead the world in stemming the spread of this deadly virus.

Our legislation, which had 24 co-sponsors from both parties, recognizes the tragedy of the AIDS pandemic in human terms, as well as its economic, political and social effects.

We call for the formation of the Global AIDS and Health Fund, and urge financial and other assistance from the U.S., other nations, and international and private charitable organizations. And lastly, we urge international assistance programs to emphasize prevention and comprehensive care and treatment.

AIDS has already taken a major toll on many in Africa as well as here at home.

And without bold, new action, it threatens to create an even greater crisis in the future.

Sen. Dick Lugar, R-Ind.:

We have paid inadequate attention to a raft of problems in Africa. I plan to increase the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's focus on Africa when I assume the chairmanship next year.

We must do much more on the African AIDS pandemic, which is a humanitarian catastrophe and a serious economic and political crisis.

Two pieces of legislation I sponsored, the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act and the Lugar-Biden Debt for Nature Swaps, have been described as bright lights in our Africa policy.

I also supported the debt write-off package implemented by the U.S. about the time that Bono visited me in my office in 1999. He has raised the profile of this important issue.

Related stories:
Facing the AIDS challenge




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