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Spring Housing Guide

Bush pushes abstinence to fight AIDS

By Rita Beamish THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

President Bush’s $15 billion effort to fight AIDS has handed out nearly one-quarter of its grants to religious groups, and officials are aggressively pursuing new church partners that often emphasize disease prevention through abstinence and fidelity over condom use.

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

The outreach to nontraditional AIDS players comes in the midst of a debate over how best to prevent the spread of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. The debate has activated groups on both ends of the political spectrum and created a vast competition for money.

Conservative Christian allies of the president are pressing the U.S. foreign aid agency to give fewer dollars to groups that distribute condoms or work with prostitutes. The Bush administration provided more than 560 million condoms abroad last year, compared with some 350 million in 2001.

Secular organizations in Africa are raising concerns that new money to groups without AIDS experience may dilute the impact of Bush’s historic three-year-old program.

“We clearly recognize that it is very important to work with faith-based organizations,” said Dan Mullins, deputy regional director for southern and western Africa for CARE, one of the best-known humanitarian organizations.

“But at the same time we don’t want to fall into the trap of assuming faith-based groups are good at everything,” Mullins said.

The administration is beginning a broad effort to attract newcomers and distribute money for AIDS prevention and care beyond the large nonprofit groups that traditionally have led the fight.

The New Partners Initiative reserves $200 million through the 2008 budget year for community and church groups with little or no background in government grants. Some may have health operations in Africa but no experience in HIV work. Others may be homegrown groups in Africa that have not previously sought U.S. support.

“The notion that because people have always received aid money that they’ll get money needs to end,” Deputy U.S. global AIDS Coordinator Mark Dybul said in an 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.”

Religious organizations last year accounted for more than 23 percent of all groups that got HIV/AIDS grants, according to the State Department. Some 80 percent of all secular and religious grant recipients were based in the countries where the aid is targeted.

Most of the money in Bush’s initiative goes to treatment programs, earning the administration praise for delivering lifesaving drugs and care to millions of HIV-infected patients.

For prevention, Bush embraces the “ABC” strategy: abstinence before marriage, being faithful to one partner, and condoms targeted for high-risk activity. The Republican-led Congress mandated that one-third of prevention money be reserved for abstinence and fidelity.

Condom promotion to anyone must include abstinence and fidelity messages, U.S. guidelines say, but those preaching abstinence do not have to provide condom education.

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.

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