May 15, 2003
On behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, I welcome the Senate's effort to expedite consideration of H.R. 1298, the United States Leadership Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria Act of 2003.
At this critical moment, a meaningful, immediate, and sustained national response to this pandemic is required in order to provide hope to the millions of people who are at risk of dying from HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases. As we are among the principal institutions serving people suffering from or affected by HIV/AIDS in Africa and other parts of the world, the U.S. Catholic Bishops and Catholic Relief Services welcomed the President's $15 billion initiative and now urges the Senate to affirm our national commitment to fight HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases by authorizing at least $3 billion for FY 2004, and a similar level of funding for FY 2005-2008, and by assuring that this authorization does not come at the expense of funding for other aid programs for poor countries.
The U.S. Catholic Bishops are encouraged by provisions of H.R. 1298 which emphasize a comprehensive as well as morally appropriate approach to the health crises in poor countries. We strongly support the 'Conscience Clause' as contained in this bill. Also, the priority given to the role of abstinence and fidelity as major components of prevention education has proven effective in stanching the spread of HIV. Studies have shown that the success in reducing HIV transmission in countries like Uganda is largely a result of prioritizing abstinence before and fidelity in marriage.
I am disappointed that the debt relief provisions that were included in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee bill in the 107th Congress may not be a part of this legislation. The heavy burden of debt in the poorest countries continues to draw precious government resources away from critical needs of suffering people. It impedes the ability of governments to respond to HIV/AIDS and other health crises and to meet other development needs of their people. The bishops believe that if the debt burden was diminished, more internal resources could be directed toward addressing these urgent problems. We hope that a way may still be found to include urgent debt relief in the final bill without delaying or jeopardizing the important provisions of H.R. 1298 cited above. If it is not possible to do this, I urge you to ensure that debt relief for Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPCs) is taken up and passed as soon as possible during this session.
The United States has a tremendous opportunity to demonstrate leadership in this health crisis of unparalleled proportion so as to ease the suffering of millions of people.
Most Reverend John H. Ricard
Bishop of Pensacola-Tallahassee
Committee on International Policy