Global AIDS group 'very disappointed' in president, Congress

The largest global AIDS organization accused the Obama administration and Congress on Friday of falling short on promised funding and oversight in the worldwide fight against the epidemic.

The Los Angeles-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation questioned the government's commitment to President George W. Bush's signature foreign aid program and said millions of people were in jeopardy of losing access to life-saving drugs, especially in sub-Saharan Africa.

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"We're very disappointed, frankly, with the Obama administration and this Congress," said Michael Weinstein, the group's president. 

"The fight against AIDS," he added, "is in retreat."

Weinstein held a press conference with several healthcare workers and patients from Uganda to press for greater attention to the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR. He said Obama strongly supported the program while in Congress and as a presidential candidate — then-Sen. Obama pledged in 2008 to provide at least $50 billion by 2013 for the global fight against the disease — but that support seems to have waned.

The program was created with unanimous bipartisan support in 2003 and reauthorized in 2008. Congress at the time authorized $48 billion over five years, but has only been appropriating about $6.5 billion per year since then, according to the foundation.

Five patients and medical providers were in town this week to press their case with Congress. They are asking that:

• PEPFAR treatment costs be capped at $350 per person per year for treatment, to reach the greatest number of people as efficiently possible. The group says "waste and overhead" have pushed the average cost to more than $1,100 a year;

• funding be increased for PEPFAR by at least $1 billion for Fiscal Year 2011 and every year thereafter "to ensure that funding approaches the full $48 billion authorized by Congress";

• administrative overhead be limited for contractors to 10 percent and all indirect costs to 20 percent so more money goes to treatment; and 

• 75 percent of all PEPFAR funds are required to be spend on AIDS treatment, up from the currently required 50 percent requirement for care and treatment.

The association is also pressing the administration to publish an annual best practices report, as required by the reauthorization.

"The failure to complete and disseminate these reports results in waste, inefficiency and lost lives," the association wrote in a March 22 letter to U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator Eric Goosby, "and prevents PEPFAR from fully realizing its potential."

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