U.S. Backs Off Stipulation on AIDS Funds

By David Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 18, 2005

The Bush administration pulled back yesterday from a plan that would have required thousands of grass-roots AIDS organizations working overseas and partly funded by U.S. money to publicly declare their opposition to prostitution and sex trafficking.

Overseas AIDS groups that receive money directly from the U.S. government or through a federally funded U.S. charity already have to declare their opposition to prostitution.

The new policy was attempting to extract a similar pledge from the much larger universe of AIDS groups whose funding comes from multinational organizations that collect money from many countries, not just the United States.

Many AIDS organizations are highly critical of what they term the anti-prostitution "loyalty oath," arguing it will make it harder to reach a crucial risk group -- prostitutes -- with prevention messages.

A document issued last week by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that grass-roots AIDS groups receiving money through the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria had to make the declaration even though the Global Fund itself was exempt.

This would have meant that about 3,000 groups in 128 countries supported by the Global Fund would have to make the pledge -- something that AIDS activists said would cause a mixture of fear and resentment in some nations.

The four-year-old fund so far has committed $3 billion, a third of it from the United States. Because organizations that do not make the pledge cannot get federal funds, the huge U.S. contribution to the Global Fund might have been at risk if the fund had balked at enforcing the requirement.

A spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services, Kevin W. Keane, said last night that the posting of the CDC document was "a misunderstanding." The language "hadn't been fully reviewed and cleared," he said. "We are removing that language."

The policy was described in two "requests for applications," one advertising a $2 million contract for AIDS "education and behavior change" activities in Ethiopia, and the other a $5.8 million contract for AIDS testing, counseling and treatment in Botswana, Lesotho, South Africa, Swaziland and Ivory Coast.

Randall L. Tobias, who directs the five-year, $15 billion President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), learned of the CDC posting on Friday as he prepared to go to Africa to visit grant recipients.

"Somebody is ahead of their headlights," Tobias said Sunday. The policy "is not one I have seen and considered," he said. "It is something that I would want to sign off on one way or another."

The HHS spokesman said yesterday that Tobias, who oversees disbursement of U.S. global AIDS funding, had rescinded the policy.

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