World's poor suffer at hands of US AIDS policy

The UK Department for International Development’s announcement of £3m for a new Global Safe Abortion Programme, at the heart of which is a new fund to support services and information to reduce unsafe abortion worldwide, was welcome news.

The fund is designed to help fill the gap created by U.S. funding restrictions for non-government organisations in developing countries that provide women with information on abortion or provide abortion services.

The reinstatement by the Bush administration of what is known as the 'Global Gag Rule' is having a serious adverse impact on the health and rights of women around the world. A new report by IPPF 'Death and Denial' shows that 19 million women will face serious injury, illness or death as a consequence of abortions performed by unskilled people under unsanitary conditions. Virtually all of these women live in the poorest countries in the world, and almost every death and injury could be averted by providing accessible, safe and legal abortion services alongside comprehensive reproductive health services.

If this wasn't bad enough, the gag rule isn't the only US conditionality that is having a counterproductive impact on the health and rights of the world’s poor. Conditions associated with US funding for the fight against AIDS are undermining comprehensive HIV prevention and mitigation efforts.

Support for abstinence only programming, restrictions on work with commercial sex workers and opposition to needle and syringe exchange programs for injecting drug users are all being pursued by the US through their funding for AIDS relief eforts worldwide.

In response to the Guardian's editorial 'In praise of family planning' commending the UK's decision to establish the fund, I wrote a letter in my capacity as Chair of the newly created Global Working Group on US Aids Policy, backing the decision but calling on the UK and other European donors to fill the gap created by US Aids policies. You can read the letter which was published by The Guardian online by clicking here.

The Working Group has been established to monitor the impact of these policies in developing countries and to promote more effective approaches to combating HIV/AIDS including, evidence-based prevention efforts. The Working Group aims to advance a strong, evidence-based HIV prevention and impact mitigation agenda that reflects scientific consensus, rather than ideology and politics.

For more information:

Global Working Group on US Aids Policy

International Planned Parenthood Federation

Centre for Health and Gender Equity

Department for International Development