March 4, 2003
I am writing on behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to thank you for the serious attention the Senate continues to give to the devastating global health crisis, in particular HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria in sub-Saharan Africa. We applaud the Bush Administration for the recent AIDS initiative which promises to provide $10 billion in new money over the next five years to fight HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases. A meaningful and immediate national response to this crisis is required to have a direct impact upon the lives of millions of people in the developing world who are dying from this pandemic and who, without help, have little hope for escape from the vicious cycle of poverty, disease, and death.
In order to make a real difference now in the fight against HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases, a substantial increase in funding is needed immediately. I urge you to support increases that would bring total funding to at least $2 billion in FY 2004 to combat HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases. This money should be used principally to support palliative care for those debilitated by the disease; programs for communities adversely affected by the pandemic, including AIDS orphans; and morally appropriate prevention activities focused on education and counseling. As you are aware, the U.S. Catholic Bishops have principled concerns about prevention activities we find inconsistent with Catholic teaching; however, we do support educational programs designed to promote behavioral changes so as to attain responsible and mutually respectful relationships, and to provide accurate information about transmission of the disease.
To the extent that funds are also provided for research, such funds should be used for research in those countries most adversely affected by HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases. Funding to confront the global health crisis should not come at the expense of monies provided in other development assistance accounts. For example, in the President's FY 2004 budget, we note a decrease of $470 million in monies designated to Child Survival and Health.
Heavy debt burdens in the poorest countries continue to draw precious government resources away from critical needs. Many poor nations in Africa are currently confronted with drought and a severe food crisis, which is compounded by a high incidence of HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases. Heavy debt burdens impede the ability of governments to respond to these crises and other development needs of their people. I therefore urge you to provide debt relief for all Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPCs) sufficient to reduce annual debt payments to no more than 10% of government revenues, and, for countries suffering public health crises, to no more than 5% of government revenues.
Through substantial increases in funding for global health and deeper debt relief, our nation has the opportunity to provide moral leadership in combating the HIV/AIDS pandemic and easing the intolerable debt burden of the poorest countries.
Most Reverend John H. Ricard
Committee on International Policy