Fighting the good fight

This is, perhaps, understandable to a degree, given some of the high-profile misguided priorities in addressing domestic AIDS that were assumed by many to be representative of the entire global fight against the disease. 

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Fortunately, this assumption is not the case. Some of the greatest strides in addressing the AIDS epidemic were made under the policies of a Republican president, George W. Bush, who decided to address HIV/AIDS not by blindly throwing an ever-increasing amount of money at the problem but by taking a more conservative approach and getting government out of the picture, where possible, and making it easier for private community and faith-based organizations (FBOs) to do the work the federal government could never effectively carry out.

Indeed, conservatives are uniquely positioned to affect this crisis. My commitment to this issue stems from my deep pro-life belief that all human beings are children of God and are created equal. We now know that, by adding a conservative, pro-strong-family, pro-free-enterprise viewpoint, we can move from talking about the AIDS crisis as a lofty, unattainable ideal to seeing actual, quantifiable progress on the ground in struggling nations. In fact, new HIV infections and AIDS-related deaths have fallen to their lowest levels since the peak of the epidemic. New HIV infections have been reduced by 21 percent since 1997 and deaths from AIDS-related illnesses decreased by 21 percent since 2005.

From a fiscal perspective, the aforementioned FBOs are vital implementers of our federal funding and, as private organizations, can most efficiently distribute life-saving aid. The World Health Organization estimates that FBOs provide anywhere from 30 percent to 70 percent of healthcare in developing nations. FBOs have proven themselves the best and most effective implementers of programs such as the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). 

In places like Africa, where relationship-building is so fundamental, we have seen that these organizations have much higher success rates at distributing services to rural areas, thanks to their pre-existing relationships and heavy investment in the region. I am convinced that human rights and humanitarian work is, almost without exception, better handled by the more capable, more experienced, compassionate hand of private organizations on the ground.

And while there is a foundational human compassion argument for our involvement to save lives, there is also a practical, national security argument: As we deliver critical aid to often conflict-riddled areas, we are also bringing about much needed regional stability. Lingering despair, disease and hopelessness breed instability and opportunity for exploitation by malevolent forces. If we fail to assume leadership in this fight, those without conscience will seek to fill that vacuum. However, together we can promote a balance of power that heavily favors freedom: freedom that allows mothers to rock their HIV-free babies to sleep at night, enables school children to live in hope and joy about the future, and provides opportunity for the light of liberty to fall across the face of every human being on this earth. 

Ten years ago, the AIDS pandemic hung like a dark cloud over Africa. We have witnessed a strong and effective response to this global health crisis — thanks in large part to the realization that conservative principles are just as relevant in helping children suffering from AIDS in Africa as they are in shoring up our situation here at home.

Now, we have seen legitimate results to justify our international investment through our partnerships with faith-based organizations and understand that encouraging strong families is ultimately one of the best ways to address the root cause of this epidemic. Recent scientific advances allow us to control this epidemic, decreasing the number of people who will require treatment in the long term. This is a tremendous result from our strategic global health initiatives and furthers our humanitarian and budgetary return on investment.

If we act now and, most importantly, through a collective, bipartisan effort, we can help millions live the dream of a long, healthy life walking in the sunlight of freedom.

Franks serves on the House Judiciary Committee and is a co-chairman of the bipartisan HIV/AIDS Caucus.