Monday, January 30, 2006

A Peek In The African Bush

Religious Groups Get Chunk of AIDS Money

Associated Press Writer

January 30, 2006, 2:52 AM EST

New groups are springing up to win a piece of President Bush's $15 billion AIDS program, with traditional players and religious groups joining forces to improve their chances in a competition that already has targeted nearly a quarter of its grants for faith-based organizations.

The administration is putting out a call for new community and church groups to get involved in HIV prevention and care in 15 target countries, most in sub-Saharan Africa. It is reserving $200 million specifically for groups with little or no government grant experience.

Groups that have deep local ties in the countries and focus on abstinence and fidelity -- instead of just condoms -- are faring well.

"The notion that because people have always received aid money that they'll get money needs to end," Deputy Global AIDS coordinator Mark Dybul said in a recent interview with The Associated Press.

"The only way to have sustainable programs is to have programs that are wholly owned in terms of management personnel at the local level."

Those on the ground in Africa say Bush's 3-year-old effort is reshaping prevention efforts.

"You have community organizations, some that have operated for decades, asking for money and you have lots of new organizations popping up," said Sarah Lucas, a development assistance expert who recently toured four countries on the U.S. target list for HIV/AIDS grants.

Award recipients so far include a Christian relief organization famous for its televised appeals to feed hungry children, a well-known Roman Catholic charity and a group run by the son of evangelist Billy Graham, according to the State Department.
In other words, proselytization.

When Bush announced this sweeping effort to eradicate AIDS in Africa, a bell went off in my head. Did it go off in yours, as well? Thinks I, why would a man whose lifelong dedication to the free markets and whose avocation has been the dismantling of even GOOD government programs suddenly get it in his head to spend massive amounts of money to treat an epidemic on the poorest continent of this planet for people with skin color vastly different from his own?

Now I get it. It's a way to skim money to his Christian Coalition buddies. It's a way to tie that money to abstinence-only programs. It's a way to stop federal funding of helping humans overcome their weaknesses.

In other words, it's a scam! What happens, for example, in the Sudan, a country overrun with Islamists? Nevermind that, what happens in countries where women have had a hard time rising out of poverty, where equal rights is laughed at?

The abstinence emphasis, say some longtime AIDS volunteers, has led to a confusing message and added to the stigma of condom use in parts of Africa. Village volunteers in Swaziland maintain a supply of free condoms but say they have few takers.

"This drive for abstinence is putting a lot of pressure on girls to get married earlier," said Dr. Abeja Apunyo, the Uganda representative for Pathfinder International, a reproductive health nonprofit group based in Massachusetts.

"For years now we have been trying to tell our daughters that they should finish their education and train in a profession before they get married. Otherwise they have few options if they find themselves separated from their husbands for some reason," Apunyo said.
It's part of Bush's grand plan to force men, particularly white men, back in complete charge.

And it disgusts me.

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