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"Remove Restrictions On HIV/AIDS Funding To Africa" GNA on Modern Ghana, 16 Feb 08

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A Pan-African organisation spearheading the anti-HIV/AIDS campaign has called on the United States government to remove restrictions that govern US funding of HIV/AIDS activities in African countries.

"We are concerned about the anti-prostitution pledge within the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) initiative, which requires that organisations receiving US funding sign a pledge opposing prostitution," Mrs Bernice Heloo, President of the Society for Women And AIDS in Africa (SWAA), said in Accra.

"Many organisations have turned down US funding because of these restrictions, which, if adopted would prevent us from reaching some people most vulnerable to HIV/AIDS," she added.

Mrs Heloo was speaking at a press conference in Accra as part of lobbying to change US HIV/AIDS funding policies to Africa ahead of US President George Bush's visit to some African countries including Ghana next week.

She said US funding to Africa under the PEPFAR initiative was restrictive because it funded only programmes that exclusively taught abstinence and being faithful in addressing the pandemic.

Mrs Heloo said the initiative also determined ways in which PEPFAR recipient countries must incorporate the "Abstain, Be faithful and Condom Use (ABC)" model and the abstinence-until marriage programmes into their prevention activities.

She said these restrictions failed to adequately address the prevention needs of women, married and unmarried, and other vulnerable groups who were at risk of HIV transmission given the socio-cultural structure of the African continent.

Mrs Heloo said, although the US government was doing well in providing funding, it must allow countries in Africa to determine approaches that would best suit them. PEPFAR was authorized by the US Congress for the spending of 15 billion dollars between 2004 and 2008, including 10 billion in new money to expand global HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria programmes, which means the US can spend money on its programmes until September 30, 2008.

"We are aware that congress has already begun discussing plans for re- authorising PEPFAR and is expected to undertake serious discussions and debates on the subject in early 2008."

She said President Bush's trip to Ghana and some African countries was taking place just as Congress was rewriting the law that governed the US programmes on HIV/AIDS and therefore, SWAA together with its partners were calling on the US President to reconsider the restrictions placed on the use of US HIV/AIDS funding in Africa.