This is a guest post by Jessica Mack
Jessica Mack is a global gender specialist and freelance writer. She is currently based in Bangkok, Thailand where she works on issues of violence against women and girls in the Asia Pacific region. More at www.jessmack.com. You can also follow her on Twitter @fleetwoodjmack
The Obama Administration talks a lot about integrating and coordinating our various global health projects, and also about how important it is to empower women. That’s the rhetoric. Here’s one womens health advocate’s view of the reality.
Preventing the spread of HIV and AIDS has a lot to do with promoting safe sex.
That may sound obvious, but it seems to remain a mystery to those in the U.S. Government who set our AIDS prevention policies overseas. Stemming the spread of HIV has as much to do with family planning and enabling safe sex as it does with ensuring access to affordable drugs, accurate education, or changing norms and mindsets at the community level.
So it would make a hell of a lot of sense if all money for HIV/AIDS prevention efforts also included money for family planning. But alas.
Though the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) has been touted as one of our nation’s most successful initiatives in global health (and certainly one of President George W. Bush’s most positive legacies) it continues to miss the mark on this important point.
Oddly, PEPFAR will allow funds to be used for condoms — but only if they are promoted for protection against HIV as opposed to pregnancy.
PEPFAR recently released its 2013 country operational plan (COP), the framework for how its funding should be used by developing countries. This included what activities should and should not be supported – with one big bolded addition.
Under the section titled “Family Planning” – which extolls the importance of family planning as an effective means for reducing HIV/AIDS – is added this sentence: “PEPFAR funds may not be used to purchase family planning commodities.”
Um, come again?
This bizarre prohibition has had and will continue to have the effect of systematically cleaving contraceptive services from HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention services, oftentimes quite literally into different clinic sites and distinct service providers.
It doesn’t make sense, and it’s dangerous.