Bills Aim to Boost Global HIV Prevention Among Women and Youth
amfAR INTERNS JOIN CONCERTED ADVOCACY EFFORT ON CAPITOL HILL
By Jenna Nicole Levine, with Colin Gilmartin and Idara Udoh
September 2007—Two important pieces of legislation that challenge the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and would improve the effectiveness of federally funded HIV prevention programs, particularly among women and young people, are gaining support on Capitol Hill. PEPFAR is a multi-billion dollar initiative designed to provide HIV/AIDS treatment, care, support, and prevention services around the world, primarily in 15 target countries. The prevention component of PEPFAR, however, places considerable emphasis on abstinence-until-marriage programs in spite of a raft of evidence refuting their effectiveness.
The Protection Against Transmission of HIV in Women and Youth (PATHWAY) Act of 2007 (H.R. 1713) calls for striking the earmark requiring that one-third of all PEPFAR prevention funding be allocated to abstinence-until-marriage programs, and would create a comprehensive plan to address the needs of women and youth. The HIV Prevention Act of 2007 (S. 1553) would only strike the earmark.
In an effort to enlist legislative support for the two bills, more than 55 interns from research and advocacy organizations in Washington, D.C., participated in the 2nd annual Intern Lobby Day on July 18, including amfAR Public Policy interns Colin Gilmartin, Jena Nicole Levine, and Idara Udoh. Armed with fact sheets and talking points, interns broke off into groups and headed for their assigned offices with one goal in mind: to gain the support of Congressional staff assistants, who in turn might secure the support of their bosses as co-sponsors to the legislation. They provided information about the current state of HIV in the U.S. and abroad, determined to convince Hill staffers that the PATHWAY Act and the HIV Prevention Act are important issues to their constituents.
The interns informed the staffers that approximately 50 percent of all new HIV infections worldwide occur among 15- to-24-year-olds. In sub-Saharan Africa, between 60 and 80 percent of HIV infections among women result from sex with their husbands or primary partners. In the face of these startling statistics, abstinence-until-marriage programs show no evidence of efficacy, and they continue to undermine successful evidence-based approaches to prevention. Both the Institute of Medicine and the Government Accountability Office have concluded that the abstinence-until-marriage earmark impedes the integration of prevention programs and the ability of countries to respond to local prevention needs.
amfAR’s interns left the Hill feeling positive about their efforts. Reflecting on her Lobby Day experience, Idara Udoh stated: “I gained a great deal of insight into these two very important pieces of legislation, which deeply affect the lives of women and youth worldwide. Furthermore, it has compelled me—as it should others—to want to become more involved in addressing this and similar issues in the fight against HIV/AIDS.”
The goal of the Intern Lobby Day was to secure 100 co-sponsors for the PATHWAY Act. As of September 17, 94 co-sponsors had signed on to the PATHWAY Act and 15 to the HIV Prevention Act.