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Hearing on HIV/AIDS Relief Highlights Challenges for Women, Families

On May 20, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs heard testimony from Thomas J. Walsh, the acting deputy of the Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator (OGAC) discussing the President Obama’s FY2010 request for the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).  

For FY2010, the president’s budget requested $5.295 billion for PEPFAR, including $600 million for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria. The budget also requested $300 million for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to combat HIV/AIDS. 

Mr. Walsh began his testimony by noting that President Obama has said that the United Nations Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of halting the spread of HIV by 2015 and ensuring access to treatment for all, regardless of economic status, is also the goal of the U.S.  

Particular attention must be paid to the disproportionate effect AIDS has had on women’s lives, he said, explaining: “The AIDS pandemic has a woman’s face…In some regions, girls can be infected at a rate five times higher than boys, demonstrating the need for targeted HIV programs that focus on gender equity, address male norms and behaviors, reduce violence and coercion, increase women and girls’ access to income and productive resources, and increase women’s status and legal protection. Effective responses to HIV/AIDS are thus responses that empower women and girls, and PEPFAR is working, through its five-point gender strategy[see Table Six], to address the prevention, care, and treatment challenges that women and girls face in far too many countries and communities.” The effect on pregnant women is especially pronounced as “women with HIV are four to five times more likely to die in childbirth, yet only 18 percent of pregnant women in sub-Saharan Africa receive HIV testing during their pregnancies, and less than 40 percent of HIV-infected women receive antiretroviral drugs to prevent transmission of HIV to their child.” 

In addition to targeting women and working to increase gender equality, Mr. Walsh said that OGAC and PEPFAR must ensure access to primary education for AIDS orphans, especially girls “who at all ages are pulled from school to assume the role of caregiver after the death of a mother.” Reducing mother-to-child transmission, child mortality, and concomitant infections, such as malaria and tuberculosis; advocating “gender-sensitive” prevention methods; and increasing screening services are vital to reducing the pandemic’s impact on families. “This comprehensive approach to health, including support for a family-centered approach to care, will have long-term benefits to the lives of individuals and families, and contribute to the overall development of the countries in which PEPFAR works,” he said.

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