President Bush has called on the United States Congress to double U.S. funding towards fighting the global AIDS pandemic.

He requested $30 billion through the President’s Emergency Programme for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) for the first five years after he leaves office.

The President first announced his plans to create PEPFAR, a five year, $15 billion dollar initiative to combat AIDS worldwide, during his 2003 State of the Union Address.

PEPFAR funding supports various HIV/AIDS programmes, which provide access to antiretroviral drugs, treatment, and prevention in fifteen focus countries, in addition to many other countries hard hit by the AIDS pandemic.

The programme is currently set to expire on September 30, 2008.

“Twenty-six years after the first reported AIDS case in the U.S., HIV and AIDS continues to devastate communities both at home and abroad, and our nation’s leadership must harness all possible resources to confront the epidemic,” said gay lobby group Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese.

“Though the PEPFAR programme has provided life-saving treatment for millions of people with HIV/AIDS worldwide, we continue to have grave concerns over the misguided restrictions on prevention funding.

“Our nation’s experts agree that the abstinence earmark only exacerbates the challenges in providing effective and culturally appropriate prevention messages to stem the transmission of the epidemic.

“We urge Congress to lift these restrictions based purely on ideology and instead fund proven science-based prevention strategies.”

Current US law dictates that one-third of prevention funding through PEPFAR must teach exclusively abstinence-only until marriage.

A 2006 report from the General Accountability Office (GAO) found that seventeen of the twenty countries surveyed reported that the abstinence earmark “challenges their ability to develop interventions that are responsive to local epidemiology and social norms.”

Furthermore, the GAO reported that in order to comply with the abstinence earmark, many countries were forced to significantly cut funding for prevention efforts to reach those most at risk, including programmes designed to prevent mother-to-child transmission of the HIV virus.

In 2007, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) likewise criticised the abstinence earmark as well as the programme’s ban on funding needle exchange programs as obstacles to the programme’s effectiveness.

Representatives Barbara Lee (Democrat, California) and Christopher Shays (Republican, Connecticut) have introduced the Protection Against Transmission of HIV for Women and Youth Act of 2007 which would eliminate the abstinence-only earmark in PEPFAR.

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