Posts Tagged ‘Senate Foreign Relations Committee’

On Thursday, a powerful Senate panel is expected to ramp up pressure on Uganda’s leaders to kill an anti-gay bill that would criminalize homosexuality and is now pending in that country’s Parliament.   

At issue is Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which would impose life imprisonment or a death sentence for same-gender consensual sex and threatens prison time for individuals who do not report suspected homosexuals to the police. The proposed law has sparked international condemnation, and this week that outrage will be on display at a meeting of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The panel is expected to take up a Senate Resolution on Thursday on urging members of Uganda’s Parliament to reject the bill. A broad coalition of advocacy groups has urged senators to support the measure.

In a letter urging a “yes” vote on the resolution, the groups note that this legislation (and similar proposals in other countries) is a gross violation of human rights and could jeopardize the international response to the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

“The effort to halt and reverse the spread of HIV & AIDS globally is compromised by punitive legal environments that further marginalize communities at high risk for HIV,” the coalition letter says. “Gay men and other men who have sex with men (MSM) in low- and middle-income countries are 19 times more likely to be infected with HIV than the general population. Criminal laws that expressly target this population drive the community underground, fueling risk-taking behavior in a climate of fear and silence, and making it difficult to reach MSM with the information and services they need. Investments in PEPFAR, totaling over $32.3 billion since FY 2004, will not achieve their full potential in a political climate that is hostile to key affected populations.”

Click here to read the full sign-on letter: SRes409 (2)

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Bill Gates and Bill Clinton testify about US global health priorities before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee

Two global health heavyweights—Bill Clinton and Bill Gates—testified before a key Senate committee today, urging lawmakers to provide more U.S. funding to combat scourges such as HIV and tuberculosis.

In opening remarks, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, stressed the importance of funding global health programs and cited the success of PEPFAR, which provides lifesaving HIV treatment to 2.4 million people in the developing world today.  In addition, he noted, the program has helped ensure that more than 300,000 children born to HIV-infected mothers were born free of the virus. 

 “That’s not enough—but it does represent a remarkable achievement,” Kerry said.

Kerry and his two star witnesses generally praised President Obama’s proposed Global Health Initiative, while reitetring that a strong committee to combating HIV and other diseases, such as TB and malaria, remains vital. And both Gates and Clinton expressed concern over decreased funding for the Global Fund to Fight Aids, TB, and Malaria. Gates told the committee he hoped that the “small decrease will be fixed.”

Ex- President Clinton, who now heads the Clinton Foundation, mounted a particularly powerful case for increased HIV treatment scale up. When Sen. Bob Casey, D-Penn., asked Clinton what he would do with another $1 billion or $ 2 billion for maternal and child health, Clinton highlighted two priorities—prevention of mother to child HIV transmission and HIV treatment for kids. Clinton said the rate of death among HIV infected infants is dire, and it is imperative that mortality rates are reduced by providing more treatment to HIV infected-pregnant women to halt vertical transmission. 

President Clinton repeatedly stressed the need for reducing the price of commodities and other health care costs to accommodate more people in need of care in developing countries.  Citing the high costs of many HIV/AIDS drugs, Clinton remarked that since the market won’t bring prices down low enough, it is imperative that institutions take actions to reduce prices down.  He discussed an agreement with Pfizer to provide rifanbutin, the only drug to combat tuberculosis in HIV-infected individuals, at 65 percent off the market price.  This price reduction will save between 200,000 and 300,000 lives. 

Clinton said other health care costs, like laboratory and testing prices, must come down as well to combat the threat of infectious diseases.  In addition to lowering costs, governments and organizations must better train health care professionals, while also providing incentives to Western-educated health care professionals of developing countries to return home after their education, to improve the public health situation abroad.

While Clinton focused on price reductions for treatment, Gates stressed the importance of developing vaccines for prevention.  Gates stressed that “AIDS is the toughest disease for treatment and prevention.” He highlighted HIV prevention initiatives with real potential to help.  He outlined the efficacy data on male circumcision and expressed surprise that that was a real demand for circumcision among adult men once they heard about the evidence that circumcision was protective against HIV infection, but noted that there is real demand citing Kenya and South Africa as examples.  (more…)

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No news is definitely not good news when it comes to this sore subject: the vacancy at the helm of USAID.

Reports out today indicate that lawmakers in Congress are as anxious as the rest of us about the fact that this agency is rudderless, at a time when the Obama Administration is seeking to revamp foreign aid and development policies.

Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Richard Lugar, R-Ind., have sent a letter to the Administration urging the White House to appoint a USAID leader—and fast. Preferably, the two top lawmakers on the Foreign Relations Committee say, it should be someone who’s already been vetted. Here’s a blog post on the Kerry-Lugar letter from the Cable, which also delves into the status of Congressional efforts to overhaul foreign aid.

On that very same subject, we direct your attention to this very interesting, meaty opinion piece by former US Global AIDS Coordinator Mark Dybul, who talks about how PEPFAR worked because it broke “all the rules” by sidestepping government bureaucracy and forging a new approach to development aid. Lawmakers should look to PEPFAR as a model as they move ahead with foreign assistance reform, Dybul argues in this piece.

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If today’s hearing was any indication, Dr. Eric Goosby is headed for an easy confirmation to be U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator. Dr. Goobsy’s time in the hot seat, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, lasted all of 30 minutes this afternoon, and he wasn’t thrown any hardballs.

In his opening remarks, Dr. Goosby talked about working in the HIV/AIDS field from the early days “where death was a daily event, to times of hope” where treatment has saved millions of lives. If confirmed, he said he would be guided by a set of key principles, from an intensified focus on HIV prevention to strengthening health systems. The latter is of course a key concern for the new administration and vital to PEPFAR’s success in winning hearts and minds in Washington these days.

Dr. Goosby also said that PEPFAR has demonstrated what happens “when we dare to think big” and promised to continue that visionary streak if confirmed.

Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., who chaired the session, asked several questions about health-system strengthening, including how Dr. Goosby would leverage PEPFAR to bolster local health infrastructure. Dr. Goosby said PEPFAR should be “used as a platform to extend medical services” to cover a wider net of diseases and broader population.

In response to a question about health care worker training from Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., Dr. Goosby acknowledged the challenges in recruiting and retaining new health professionals. But he said PEPFAR’s efforts should focus on partnering with developing-country academic institutions. “We need to create the capability on the continent and not export it,” Dr. Goosby said.

If anyone expected fireworks, they were likely disappointed. There was little mention of funding—a vital concern among global AIDS advocates at the moment, as Congress considers the Obama administration’s modest proposal to increase PEPFAR’s budget by $100 million in FY 2010.

Feingold wrapped up the hearing after only one round of questions from the two senators in attendance—himself and Lugar—and said he looked forward to “prompt consideration” of Dr. Goosby’s nomination.

IDSA's VP for Global Health Christine Lubinski greets Dr. Eric Goosby after his confirmation hearing

IDSA's VP for Global Health Christine Lubinski greets Dr. Eric Goosby after his confirmation hearing

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For anyone interested in the fight against global AIDS, today is potentially pivotal. This afternoon, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a confirmation hearing on Dr. Eric Goosby’s nomination to be U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator.

A full Senate vote confirming Goosby cannot come too soon; with Congress set to make funding decisions in the coming weeks, HIV/AIDS experts need a stronger voice within the administration to fight for a robust PEPFAR budget. They also need someone who can help counter arguments that PEPFAR should be set aside in favor of a new focus on health system strengthening, a proposal that seriously overlooks PEPFAR’s success in building lab capacity, training new health workers, and shoring up drug supply infrastructure across the developing world.

Tune in here later today for an update about how the hearing went and whether any of these issues recieved a significant airing.

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