WASHINGTON (June 7, 2008)--The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and Catholic Relief Services (CRS) expressed profound disappointment at the decision (June 5) by the House Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs to weaken the country's ability to fight the global pandemic of HIV/AIDS. The Subcommittee decided to alter the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) by eliminating in 2008 the modest level of designated funding that currently promotes abstinence and fidelity as ways to combat the spread of HIV.
"The U.S. Bishops' Conference deeply regrets the action by the Subcommittee that seriously undermines U.S. leadership in the global fight against HIV/AIDS," said Bishop Thomas G. Wenski, Chairman of the USCCB Committee on International Policy. "This action rejects tried and true methods that have proven to actually reduce HIV infections. If allowed to go forward, this change could cost lives," Bishop Wenski said.
The ABC Model (Abstinence, Be Faithful and Condoms, when necessary) is presented by some as an evidence-based approach for reducing the spread of HIV/AIDS. Of course, the Church supports only abstinence and fidelity as morally appropriate ways of fighting the spread of HIV. USCCB and CRS consider abstinence and fidelity the only sure methods of preventing and not merely reducing the risk of HIV infection. In at least 7 of the 15 PEPFAR focus countries that have been operating according to the ABC model, all the evidence to date shows that the HIV/AIDS prevalence rates is declining.
"In our extensive experience, we have seen that only an approach to HIV prevention that has sufficient funding for groups to conduct abstinence and faithfulness education has yielded
meaningful advances in stopping the spread of HIV," said Ken Hackett, President of Catholic Relief Services. "Without adequate public debate, the Subcommittee has signaled that it is prepared to abandon the consensus on how best to fight HIV/AIDS at the very moment we should be moving forward and not fighting old battles. Since PEPFAR was launched in 2003, this consensus approach has yielded significant results in combating this terrible disease," he said.
"We urge Congress to pursue evidence-based interventions that have a proven track record and that fully respect the lives and dignity of those struggling with this tragic disease," said Bishop Wenski. He called upon "Congressional Leadership and all Members to reinstate the modest requirement designating funding for the two vital pillars of abstinence and fidelity. Without requiring this funding, Congress risks diluting our nation's effort to prevent and treat the modern-day scourge of HIV/AIDS."