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Putting money where his mouth isn't

"Putting money where his mouth isn't" Continued...

Issue: "Spain waves white flag," March 27, 2004

Dr. Green said his goal is "to change policy" because "the current paradigm of AIDS prevention is based entirely on risk reduction, primarily in the form of condom use. The paradigm does not emphasize interventions that avoid the risk in the first place, such as abstinence or being faithful to one partner."

Dr. Green subsequently was appointed to the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV and AIDS. One of his first measures will be to introduce a resolution backing the ABC approach at the council's next meeting ahead of what he predicts will be "a vicious anti-ABC backlash" coming from groups who want to return to condoms and pills only.

"Uganda treated it as a behavior problem, but under our global Western model, it's been taboo to moralize about sexual behavior. You might marginalize someone," he said. "Most of my colleagues think it is unrealistic and ridiculous. But you cannot argue with success. Uganda has reduced its AIDS rate by two-thirds using this approach, and we have not. Yet we somehow are trying to tell Africans how to beat AIDS."

All of this is good news for Christian and other religious-based relief groups, who have labored in Africa's AIDS trenches for the last decade, breaking through the stigmas attached to a plague most Africans know only as "Slim," promoting abstinence through church-based teaching, and inaugurating programs to change sexual mores-another taboo subject-all the while trying to care for the sick and orphans the disease leaves behind.

Lacking funds and support to extend charity beyond the local and church level, many faith-based groups have watched AIDS rates-and the promiscuity that contributes to it-continue to skyrocket just beyond the borders of their own missions.

Since the first of this year Mr. Tobias's office has released $350 million for emergency AIDS programs, out of $2.4 billion approved for 2004 by Congress. Yet only $5 million has been apportioned to abstinence-related programs thus far. That's well behind the $110 million in new money his office and other agencies must supply to meet the year's $320 million total mandated by Congress, and suggested by Bush administration rhetoric.

Of a dozen faith-based organizations WORLD has identified that applied for first-round funding, only four received contracts. They include:

• World Relief ($10 million over five years, or $2.75 million in 2004)

• Catholic Relief Services ($7 million over 5 years, or $2 million in 2004)

• Habitat for Humanity/Opportunity International ($5 million over five years, or $1 million in 2004)

Two secular humanitarian organizations won first-round grants for abstinence training: the American Red Cross ($7 million over five years, $1.5 million in 2004) and Save the Children ($6 million over five years, $1.2 million in 2004).

Losers in the first round include: World Vision, Samaritan's Purse, Association of Christian Schools International, and CrossRoads, an abstinence-education ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ.

U.S. health officials also turned down the Salvation Army, which applied for funds to carry out anti-retroviral treatments for AIDS sufferers. Prison Fellowship was initially encouraged to apply for preexisting funds pulled into the new plan; it too was turned down. MAP International, a Georgia-based relief group that pioneered abstinence and faithfulness training with churches in Kenya, did not receive government notification in time to apply for first-round grants. Officials at the U.S. Agency for International Development told Samaritan's Purse, despite extensive humanitarian relief in Africa and sponsorship of a leading AIDS conference for faith-based groups, it was ineligible to apply for prevention funds.

The ill treatment, compounded by bewildering application procedures that stretch over two departments (State and Health and Human Services) and several U.S. health agencies, prompted faith-based leaders to complain directly to Mr. Tobias and the White House. Careerists at bureaus like USAID, they warned, were continuing to favor condom makers and status-quo family-planning groups in the AIDS fight.

"We feel that we've been the victim of some bureaucratic policies," said Matt Kavgian, government liaison for CrossRoads. "What has been changed at the political level by this administration has not been changed at the agency level. Much of the public-health establishment appears to be waiting for the end of the election season, and if Bush is not reelected I am sure they will simply return to the status quo of excluding faith-based organizations like us from the federal grant process."

Mr. Kavgian said USAID officials assured him that the Campus Crusade program was a "good fit" for prevention funds. The group already works in nine of the 14 countries targeted under the Bush plan, training teachers using a 30-lesson character-building curriculum that encourages teenagers to avoid premarital sex. CrossRoads hoped to reach 105,000 students over five years with new federal money.

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