Leaders of key U.S. committee agree to add $1.3 billion to fight AIDS
UNITED NATIONS (AP) – U.S. congressional leaders agreed to add more than $1.3 billion to a global campaign against AIDS on Tuesday, a day after Secretary of State Colin Powell pledged more American money to fight the killer disease.
As the nations pitched in with contributions to the fund during the first U.N. special session on AIDS, diplomats hammered out a tentative agreement on a document that will map the way the world deals with the epidemic for years to come.
The commitment by leaders of the House International Relations Committee was the first indication of the size of the American financial commitment toward the international effort.
A committee statement said the funds would come on top of $200 million already pledged by President Bush to a fund organized by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
The U.S. pledge earmarks $750 million for the global fund, $560 million in assistance to individual countries, and $50 million for a pilot drug treatment program.
Committee Chairman Rep. Henry J. Hyde, R-Ill., and Rep. Tom Lantos of California, the panel’s ranking Democrat, reached agreement Tuesday morning, the committee said in its statement. The full panel is expected to approve the plan Wednesday. Both full houses must approve it before the measure is sent to Bush for enactment.
The $1.3 billion plan was expected to be signed by Bush, committee sources said. Powell gave no figures Monday when he said the government would commit more than the $200 million Bush announced.
Agreement on the document came as nations agreed on wording after weeks of infighting.
Tuesday evening, the president of the General Assembly, Harri Holkeri, issued a statement saying ”final agreement on the text had been reached by the members states.” The agreed draft was formally submitted to the General Assembly for adoption Wednesday at the end of the conference.
That accord came after the negotiators compromised over language in the document that specifically named vulnerable groups – ”men who have sex with men” and ”prostitutes.” The United States, Canada and other Western nations agreed to strike that wording, which some Muslim nations found offensive.
Instead, alternative language will refer to those who are vulnerable to HIV/AIDS due to ”sexual practices.” Prostitutes will be referred to as those vulnerable to infection due to ”livelihood,” and prisoners will be referred to as those most vulnerable due to ”institutional location.”
Western countries also agreed to drop a reference in the document to guidelines drawn up by the U.N. AIDS agency that encourage nations to support same-sex marriage and decriminalize prostitution.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan says $7-10 billion is needed annually to halt AIDS and reverse the effects of a disease that has killed 22 million people and afflicted over 36 million more.
Wealthy Scandinavian states Norway and Sweden have said they will provide $110 million and $60 million respectively to the AIDS battle, though not necessarily to the fund. Britain pledged $200 million and Canada offered $73 million.
Nigeria, facing a serious AIDS epidemic, pledged $10 million. And impoverished African countries Uganda and Zimbabwe vowed to add $2 million and $1 million. Kenya promised a token $7,000.
The three-day conference at U.N. headquarters has drawn 3,000 participants, including health experts, politicians, scientists, AIDS activists and patients working to find an end to the scourge. Topics covered in workshops and discussions include everything from drug prices to homosexuality, AIDS orphans and funding.
Speakers at the conference underlined that while states bicker about their response to the global crisis, the disease continues to claim lives.
”The HIV/AIDS virus does not care about religion,” said New Zealand’s health minister, Annette King. ”It does not care about the color of a person’s skin. It does not care about ideology, or political sensibilities. It does not care in the least about politicians.”
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