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Presiding Bishop calls for House of Representatives to pass global health legislation


Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori sent a letter to the House of Representatives on April 2 calling for passage of the U.S. Global HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria Act, which has been approved by the Foreign Affairs Committee and is awaiting consideration by the full House. The full text of the letter follows.

Dear Members of the House of Representatives:

As Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, I write to offer our Church’s strong endorsement of the U.S. Global HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria Act passed by the Foreign Affairs Committee and awaiting House floor consideration. The committee-passed bill builds on the successes of our nation’s efforts to fight deadly disease around the world over the past five years, and forges a new bipartisan consensus for expanding and intensifying those programs in the years to come.

The Episcopal Church is a member of the worldwide Anglican Communion, more than half of whose members live in countries hardest hit by AIDS, TB, and malaria. Through our relationships with churches around the world, we are deeply aware of the suffering and upheaval experienced by communities affected by deadly disease, and we are actively involved in efforts to restore health and healing through prevention, care, and treatment. A world that has conquered AIDS, TB, and malaria would be not just healthier and more prosperous, but more stable and secure.

As vital as the work of faith communities and other private actors are in the fight against poverty and disease, however, true transformation can only come when the resources and energies of governments are brought to bear. That’s why the United States government’s efforts over the past five years – along with the work of multinational organizations like the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria – have been so vital. The historic $15 billion dollar commitment passed by Congress in 2003 has saved more than 1.4 million lives; provided care for more than 6.6 million people suffering from AIDS, including 2.7 million orphans and vulnerable children; and brought counseling and testing to more than 33 million people, including 10 million pregnant women.

Together with our partner churches in other parts of the world -- some of whose efforts to fight HIV/AIDS and malaria have benefited from U.S. government funding -- we have rejoiced in these successes. Even as we see life restored in so many places, however, we continue to be moved by the magnitude of the challenges that lie ahead. Each day, more than 8,000 new HIV infections occur and more than 6,300 people die of AIDS. More than 15 million orphans in Africa are created each year. At least 16 million additional people will need access to treatment by 2013. Of all the commitments to fighting extreme poverty and disease contained in the historic Millennium Declaration of 2000, the targets for fighting HIV/AIDS remain farthest off track.

This is why passage of the U.S. Global HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria Act of 2008 is so vital. By passing the legislation adopted by the Foreign Affairs Committee, the House has an opportunity to build on the momentum of the past five years, while expanding our nation’s resource commitment dramatically and incorporating lessons learned not just from our successes, but from our challenges as well.

First, and most importantly, the committee-passed bill more than triples our nation’s resource commitment, pledging $50 billion over the next five years to fight HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. Additionally, it ensures that HIV/AIDS programs are linked to, and integrated with, other vital U.S.-backed efforts to fight global poverty and disease, and allows HIV/AIDS testing and counseling to be provided in the U.S. government’s international family-planning program. The bill also expands the U.S. commitment to the vital efforts of the multilateral Global Fund while establishing new benchmarks for the Fund’s transparency and accountability, and ensures a new and more pronounced emphasis on prevention and treatment for women and girls.

Finally, in an area that has garnered a great deal of attention over the past five years, the Committee-passed bill moves toward greater flexibility in the way U.S. HIV-prevention efforts are tailored to local communities. Since 2003, U.S. prevention programs have been balanced according to a formula known as ABC (Abstain, Be Faithful, use Condoms), but have required that at least one-third of prevention dollars be spent on programming that excludes discussion or distribution of condoms. This proved onerous to many local efforts, including the efforts of faith communities. The new bill passed by the Committee strikes an important compromise: it continues to require balance in our nation’s prevention efforts, but allows deviation from a strict percentage formula in cases where local needs dictate it, so long as those deviations are reported to Congress for oversight.

The bipartisan compromises contained in the committee-passed bill are particularly gratifying given the very strong views of lawmakers, implementers, and advocates on all sides of this debate. I am deeply grateful for the patient, transparent, and thoughtful negotiations between members of both parties that led to this historic compromise bill, and I am pleased to offer the Episcopal Church’s strong endorsement for the bill as it goes to the House floor.

The prophet Jeremiah, in describing a wise leader of nations, tells us that “he gave the poor a fair trial, and all went well with him.” At a moment in our world’s history marred by division, conflict, and great suffering by so many, the U.S. Global HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria Act offers an important step toward healing and wholeness for the hundreds of millions of people enslaved by deadly disease and poverty. I urge you to pass this vital legislation as quickly as possible.

Please be assured of my continual prayers for you. I remain

Your servant in Christ,

Katharine Jefferts Schori


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