Washington (CNSNews.com) – A longtime advocate of “population stabilization” said on Monday that the $48 billion Congress recently approved to treat AIDS victims around the world should be matched by U.S. funds to provide global family planning services.
“If you look at the dramatic increase in the amount of money going to AIDS and AIDS treatment, it’s a very good step,” Tim Wirth, former Democratic senator from Colorado and president of the United Nations Foundation, said at a gathering to commemorate World AIDS Day at the National Press Club.
“On the other hand, we’ve seen the scales move in just the opposite direction related to women and family planning,” Wirth said.
In July, President George Bush signed into law an extension of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR, which provides $48 billion over the next five years to treat disease victims in Africa and other countries around the world – $39 billion for AIDS and the remainder for other life-threatening conditions.
Wirth recalled leading the U.S. delegation to the Cairo Conference on Population Development as the first undersecretary for global affairs with the Clinton administration, an event he described as “extraordinarily exciting” for its “empowerment” of women’s control over family planning issues.
But, Wirth said, the findings of the conference were not supported by some Americans.
“There was, I think, a lot of resistance at the time that that occurred in 1994,” Wirth said, “and that resistance has become better organized, and we’ve seen the focus on family planning and the focus on prevention decline as probably anti-women forces, anti-family planning forces, anti-prevention forces reared their heads and then have become increasingly strong over the past 15 years.”
Wirth said taking AIDS and family planning advocacy to “the next level” will require advocates for universal access to AIDS treatment to join forces with advocates for global family planning, adding that President-elect Barack Obama could play a key role in that process.
“That, it seems to me, is the situation in which we find ourselves today, and it’s an extremely difficult situation to talk about,” Wirth said. “Most people don’t want to talk about the need to integrate these two problems and to think in a more comprehensive way – or I would suggest a more mature way – than we have in the past. Maybe the election and the new administration will allow us to do so.”
Despite leading the effort to allocate more than $60 billion to provide anti-viral AIDS drugs to people in Africa and other countries since he first proposed PEPFAR in 2004, the Bush administration has been criticized by some for including the promotion of abstinence and marital fidelity in its PEPFAR program.
Bush also reinstated the Mexico City Policy when he was elected in 2000, which requires all non-governmental organizations that receive federal funding to refrain from promoting or providing abortions.
At Monday’s event, Wirth said that family planning needs to get the same attention – and funding – as AIDS.
“This in a way is something of a Sophie’s Choice,” Wirth said, referring to the 1982 film about a Holocaust survivor who has to decide if her son or daughter will be killed.
“We’re going to have to figure out how we’re going to do a better job balancing off available money. But the first rule of this is it’s certainly not the time to slow down our efforts, but to increase our efforts,” he said.
“Not to just pat each other on the back and say we made great progress with the $48 billion – but now’s the time to start looking at what’s the next step going to be, and it seems to me that next step politically and the next step substantively is to combine these two communities in a much more aggressive way,” Wirth said.
“To do everything we possibly can to focus on women, and girls in particular, and to focus on the need for prevention,” he added.
Wirth said the number of people who need family planning is even greater than those who have HIV or AIDS.
“Just to give you a sense of how important these numbers are, we think there are 35 million people around the world who are infected with AIDS,” Wirth said. “That is a huge number. There are close to 200 million couples who want family planning services and information and can’t get them. That is key to the prevention side of this.”
Wirth ended his remarks with another reference to the need for global family planning and the next president’s role.
“This is a terribly, terribly important challenge, and we have to be honestly prepared to face the challenge, honestly prepared to talk about the challenge, and then honestly be prepared to get together and work this issue with a new administration that we all believe will be welcoming to the next level of effort,” Wirth said.