USA Today
14 February 2002

Budget has $1B for global AIDS, senator says.

WASHINGTON - Responding to the criticisms that activists have leveled at the proposed U.S. contribution to the AIDS Fund, Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., sought Wednesday to put matters in perspective.

Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, said during a wide-ranging hearing on the global impact of AIDS that the fiscal 2003 budget carries roughly $ 1 billion in funds for global AIDS programs, not just the $ 200 million President Bush recently pledged to the AIDS fund.

Most of the government's funding flows through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and other federal programs. "We quite frankly look like pikers when the ( AIDS Fund) number comes up, relative to the need," Biden says. He acknowledged that much more money will be needed to successfully attack what he called "one of the most, if not the most, pressing health concerns of our time.

" Tommy Thompson, secretary of Health and Human Services, says the Bush administration's $ 200 million pledge is "tremendously generous" in light of budget demands.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan proposed the global fund last April. The money is intended to buy medication, build medical systems, pay for schooling and meet countless other needs in poor countries struggling to contend with a raging epidemic.

AIDS activists said the roughly $ 1 billion figure overstates the amount that reaches poor people desperate for AIDS education and treatment. From $ 200 million to $ 300 million of that amount is used for research, they say.

"When we started the war on terrorism (the administration) was able to find $ 40 billion," says Fred Dillon of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation. "We need the same kind of response for global AIDS.

" Many lingering questions on how the global fund would be governed were ironed out in September. The first grants to needy nations and AIDS groups are to be announced in April. Yet the fund's $ 2 billion balance is less than one-third of Annan's $ 7 billion annual goal, which is based on a global assessment of need.

Some experts pointed out that the fund is still a work in progress that has not yet proved itself.

"We do need more resources to support the AIDS Fund," says Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., a committee member. But he warned against putting too much funding in one place.

Peter Piot, director of the United Nations joint program on AIDS, told the committee that more than 60 million people worldwide have now been infected with the AIDS virus, a population twice that of California.

AIDS is now the leading killer in sub-Saharan Africa, the fourth leading killer worldwide, he said. He noted that people in hard-hit African countries have an average life span of only 47 years.

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