- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 29, 2006

ASSOCIATED PRESS

President Bush’s $15 billion effort to fight AIDS has handed out nearly one-quarter of its grants to religious groups, and officials are aggressively pursuing new church partners that often emphasize disease prevention through abstinence and fidelity over condom use.

The outreach to nontraditional AIDS players comes in the midst of a debate over how best to prevent the spread of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

Conservative Christian allies of the president are pressing the U.S. foreign-aid agency to give fewer dollars to groups that distribute condoms or work with prostitutes. The Bush administration provided more than 560 million condoms abroad last year, compared with about 350 million in 2001.

Secular organizations in Africa are raising concerns about Mr. Bush’s historic three-year-old program.

“We clearly recognize that it is very important to work with faith-based organizations,” said Dan Mullins, deputy regional director for southern and western Africa for CARE, one of the best-known humanitarian organizations. “But at the same time, we don’t want to fall into the trap of assuming faith-based groups are good at everything.”

The administration is beginning a broad effort to attract newcomers and distribute money for AIDS prevention and care beyond the large nonprofit groups that traditionally have led the fight.

“The notion that because people have always received aid money that they’ll get money needs to end,” said Mark Dybul, deputy U.S. global AIDS coordinator.

The New Partners Initiative reserves $200 million through the 2008 budget year for community and church groups with little or no background in government grants. Some may have health operations in Africa, but no experience in HIV work. Others may be homegrown groups in Africa that have not previously sought U.S. support.

The goal now is to penetrate hard-to-reach corners of the target countries — 13 in Africa, as well as Haiti and Vietnam — and bring aboard community and faith groups that previously lacked expertise to win grants, Mr. Dybul said.

Religious organizations last year accounted for more than 23 percent of all groups that received HIV/AIDS grants, according to the State Department. About 80 percent of all secular and religious grant recipients were based in the countries where the aid is targeted.

Among those winning grants were Samaritan’s Purse, which is run by Franklin Graham, son of the famed evangelist, the Rev. Billy Graham. Samaritan’s Purse describes its mission as “meeting critical needs of victims of war, poverty, famine, disease and natural disaster while sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ.”

Other grantees include World Vision, a 56-year-old Christian charitable organization, and Catholic Relief Services, which was awarded $6.2 million to teach abstinence and fidelity in three countries; $335 million in a consortium providing anti-retroviral treatment; and $9 million to help orphans and children affected by HIV/AIDS.

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