Catholic charity urges HIV/AIDS funding in US budget

Washington D.C., Jul 10, 2012 / 02:04 am (CNA).- As congressional debate over the U.S. budget continues, Catholic Relief Services has stressed the need to preserve foreign aid funding, especially for those affected by HIV/AIDS in South Africa and Asia.

Kathleen Kahlau, a Washington D.C.-based adviser for the agency, encouraged Catholics to contact their state lawmakers and “give them the message: 'preserve this funding, preserve human life.'”

Kahlau was among a several speakers during a June 20 web cast hosted by Catholic Relief Services and the U.S. bishops conference aimed at helping prevent cuts to foreign aid funding within the federal budget.

In 2003, former President George W. Bush proposed the Presidents Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) which would allow faith based organizations to receive funding to provide health care in ways that are morally acceptable. In 2008 The State-Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill was reauthorized for another 5 years.

The legislation is expected to be up for a renewal vote before Congress breaks for elections, after they return, or could even carry over to the new congress.

“However, right now we don't see the Final Appropriations Bill FY-13 in the House or Senate coming to the floor anytime soon,” Kahlau warned.

“We would like all members of congress getting messages that foreign aid is not up for grabs and these important life-saving programs need to be supported.”

Michelle Broemmelsiek of Catholic Relief Services reported that HIV/AIDS afflicts 34 million people worldwide and continues to spread with 2.7 million newly infected every year. Over 2 million people die annually from the disease. In Zambia alone, there are nearly 10,000 deaths a month which averages out to 329 deaths a day.

Jenny Farris, a foreign service officer and former south Africa resident, also weighed in during the webcast, outlining currently available treatments.

She called anti-retro viral therapy a widely effective method in combating the condition, noting that it “slows the course of the disease in order to allow people to live relatively normal lives.”

Farris also explained that despite the popular belief that an abundance of U.S. funds are spent on foreign assistance, it in fact only comprises 1 percent of the entire federal budget.

“The programs we are focusing on is about only .5 percent of that 1 percent. Though a large amount of that does go to foreign assistance only 25-34 percent goes to the poorest of countries.”

Kahlau confirmed, however, that even this small amount of money is effective and well spent.

During her remarks, she recounted the story of a young couple in Zambia named Dannie and Christine who are both HIV positive and have lost family members to the disease.

When they married, the couple decided they wanted to have children but didn't want to pass the disease on to the child. Through proper treatments and medicine during the pregnancy, Christine successfully gave birth to a child who tested negative for HIV.

“It is possible to end the transmission of mother to child transmission to HIV through treatment, however currently today only 53 percent of the women who need treatment during their pregnancy are receiving it,” Kahlau underscored.

“We want to end the transmission from mother to child. But to do this we would need to expand that work, and that requires funding.”

Kahlau noted that a common argument among lawmakers against funding is studies which show that the number of people living with HIV/AIDS is increasing even with the funding CRS has received already.

However, what people fail to realize, she added, is that there are more people living with HIV/AIDS because less are dying from the disease.

Kahlau said that while researchers cannot cure the disease some treatments have proven affective in stopping both mother-to-child transmission and partner transmission.

“There are thousands of child-headed households and through this we can decrease the number by saving at least one parent.”

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