- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 1, 2003

With the House poised to vote on his $15 billion AIDS initiative, President Bush reminded lawmakers of the good Samaritan. "When we see the wounded travel on the road to Jericho, we will not America will not pass to the other side of the road." The terrible human cost of HIV/AIDS is reason enough for America to open its Samaritan's purse.

Mr. Bush noted that, since he announced the initiative in January, more than 175,000 babies have been born infected with the virus that causes AIDS and 760,000 people have died from it. According to the UNAIDS Report on the Global HIV/AIDS epidemic 2002, 28.5 million individuals in sub-Saharan Africa have been infected with the HIV virus, and 11 million children have been orphaned by it.

The president's commitment is a generous one, particularly at a time when the economy is shaky and the nation must not only build up its supplies of bioterrorism countermeasures but also devote resources to deal with emerging diseases such as SARS.

Since every dollar and every denarius must count toward preventing HIV infections, the most proven tools should be applied. To that end, the bill sponsored by Rep. Henry Hyde, which largely mirrors the president's plan, has appropriately adopted the ABC approach Abstain, Be faithful and, if that fails, use a Condom. In the well-known case of Uganda, ABC-style programs have reduced HIV infection rates from 21.2 percent to 6.2 percent since 1991.

Liberals complain that this approach gives too much credence to abstinence, while conservatives argue that it gives too much sanction to promiscuity. Yet, both abstinence education and condom distribution are important in HIV prevention. Abstinence education, in and of itself, is not a sufficient way to stop the spread of HIV, but it is a vital part of the process. Condom distribution also has a place, since unsafe sexual practices are responsible for the vast majority of HIV infections in sub-Saharan Africa.

To that end, Mr. Hyde's bill rightly contains an amendment offered by Rep. Barbara Lee, California Democrat, which gives no preference to preventative methods. The revision expected to be offered by Rep. Joe Pitts, Pennsylvania Republican, which would set aside up to one-third of the money specifically for abstinence and monogamy programs seems less wise since such decisions should be made by the experts in the field. We should remember that this program is for foreigners, not American teen-agers. On the other hand, good Samaritan groups should not be forced to become condom distributors, so the amendment expected to be offered by Rep. Christopher Smith, New Jersey Republican, which would exempt them from doing so, is more than reasonable and should be adopted.

Another point of contention is the amount of money that should go to the Global Fund to Fight HIV/AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis, a global public-private partnership set up to respond to those respective diseases. Mr. Hyde's bill would allocate $5 billion, the White House has asked for $1 billion and some Republicans have argued for even less, criticizing the fund as having too little oversight and too little accountability. In this case, less is more. Far too many U.S. funds have been wasted on faulty disease prevention programs, and resources are too precious to do so again. As far as possible, this initiative should have U.S. oversight. Countries that wish to do otherwise can certainly increase their level of support for the Global Fund.

Mr. Bush has committed the United States to be good Samaritans in the fight against AIDS. Congress should follow his lead, but do so in a way that maximizes each dollar spent. In the AIDS initiative, Americans should be common-sense good Samaritans.

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