2008 Country Profile Update Recommendations
In 2005, when SIECUS released the original PEPFAR Country Profiles publication, we made six recommendations: immediate actions necessary to remedy the problems in the PEPFAR legislation and its implementation. Sadly, although not surprisingly, three years and $19 billion in U.S. taxpayer funding later, little has been done. Lawmakers missed the opportunity to remedy the shortcomings of the original law in the reauthorization of PEPFAR in July 2008, despite ample evidence provided by researchers and advocates to guide them to create more sounds policy. Today, we reiterate each of these six recommendations as well as adding an additional one, and contribute evolving insight relevant to the current context:
1. Abandon the Ideological Emphasis on Abstinence-Until-Marriage Programming
The newly reauthorized law brought about a technical change in the shape of the abstinence-until-marriage funding restrictions, although the impact is equally stifling. A hard earmark in the original legislation requiring that 1/3 of all prevention funding be spent on abstinence-until-marriage programming has been supplanted by an onerous reporting requirement. Despite the overwhelming evidence that abstinence-until-marriage programs are ineffective at preventing the transmission of HIV, they remain the cornerstone of the prevention policy. The new requirement states that if funding in this area falls below 50 percent of the total allocation for prevention of sexual transmission of HIV in any country, the Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator (OGAC) must issue a report to congress to explain the failure to prioritize abstinence and marriage promotion. As long as there is a clear bias towards abstinence-until-marriage promotion programming in the law, countries will disproportionately seek to please the U.S. government and will funnel more monies into this failed approach. This wastes enormous resources on the ground and has created a situation that, if left unchecked much longer, will wholly destroy a comprehensive approach to HIV-prevention in many of the focus countries. Every attempt must be made to promote evidence-based strategies in prevention programming, not the ideological and hypermoralistic framework that characterizes the promotion of abstinence-until-marriage.
2. Increase Transparency of PEPFAR Prevention Funds
Since 2005, some progress has been made on the part of OGAC to provide more disaggregated prevention funding data in the 15 PEPFAR focus countries providing a somewhat clearer understanding of who is receiving the funds and what sort of programs are being carried out. For example, there is a greater delineation between prevention providers solely engaged in AB programming and those doing more comprehensive interventions. However, the substance of the actual initiatives being carried out remains elusive, particularly when it comes to entities receiving pass-through sub-grants from a primary agency. While there has been some improvement, OGAC must provide a fuller documentation of the content and delivery of prevention initiatives. This recommendation should not prove unduly onerous to OGAC given the extensive grantmaking and reporting requirements imposed on implementers that have generated a wealth of information already in OGAC’s possession.
3. Enact Appropriate Oversight Mechanisms of PEPFAR Prevention Grantees
In 2005, this recommendation cited two key concerns. First, we cited a lack of oversight regarding the use of funds by faith-based organizations to ensure they are not proselytizing in their work funded by PEPFAR. Given the escalation in PEPFAR funding and the increasing proportion of funding going to religious organizations, we reiterate that OGAC must provide for a systematic review of the prevention programs by these groups both including closely looking at the materials programs are using and on-the-ground monitoring of program delivery.
Second, we recommended then and reiterate now that OGAC collect data and report on the organizations taking advantage of a clause in the law that allows them to opt out of any condom/contraception education under the claim that to do so would be a violation of their religious beliefs. This information seems even more critical as abstinence and partner reduction programs have eclipsed those that include condom and contraceptive instruction. Tracking this information more closely would allow better analysis about the extent to which the clause is invoked and the extent to which condom related services are not being provided.
We also now add a third concern in this area and call on Congress to conduct a systematic review of the process by which countries are involved in the development of their annual Country Operational Plans. A great deal of evidence has emerged from individual countries that suggests that the Country Operational Plans are written by OGAC and U.S. personnel in the USAID missions of the countries to meet ideological mandates. As a result, Country Operational Plans too often fail to conform to the actual needs of the countries to combat their epidemics.
4. Rescind the Anti-Prostitution Pledge
As the United States Congress began debate in 2008 on the reauthorization of PEPFAR, one message was sent loud and clear from social conservatives and the Bush White House: the anti-prostitution pledge was non-negotiable. The anti-prostitution pledge requires all recipients of PEPFAR funds to denounce commercial sex work in order to receive U.S. government funding. SIECUS’ own research in Zambia has documented that the anti-prostitution pledge is more than just a piece of paper. It has manifested itself as the strongest of ideological weapons to shut down any outreach to women engaged in sex work, leaving them at an even greater risk for infection. The lack of political courage in Congress has meant the continuation of this dangerous policy as the reauthorization passed in July 2008 made no efforts to reverse this requirement. Congress must request an inquiry by the General Accounting Office (GAO) to undertake a survey in each of the 15 focus countries to determine the impact of the anti-prostitution pledge on HIV-prevention program delivery to women engaged in sex work. Further, a new administration in 2009 should provide leadership in directing OGAC to work with focus country governments to scale-up HIV-prevention programming to this population and actively engage in mobilizing non-U.S. government resources to fill this vital need. And of course, when the opportunity presents itself in the next reauthorization, this provision must be removed from the law itself.
5. Work with the International Community to Implement Programming and Policy that Connects HIV/AIDS to other Issues of Sexual and Reproductive Health
The current trend of separating public-health foreign aid into disease-specific silos, such as HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis, purports to create a strong enough resource flow to significantly reduce the manifestations of each disease. However, such segmentation has also led to too narrow a framework/conceptualization. Sexual transmission is the most widespread driver of the epidemic globally, and women, particularly women in committed relationships, often including marriage, and the children they bear are increasingly becoming infected with HIV. Curbing the epidemic requires greater integration of sexual and reproductive health services to provide the education and commodities needed to prevent the spread of HIV, whether through sexual transmission between partners, or mother to child transmission. Sexual and reproductive health service delivery sites are often the only interface a woman has with healthcare, offering of the opportunity to engage with and gain access to someone who may not seek out information and services elsewhere. For reasons of stigma and discrimination, a woman may not be able to seek out services at healthcare delivery sites specifically oriented towards HIV/AIDS.
While OGAC has promoted “wraparound” with reproductive health services funded through funding streams outside of that authorized by PEPFAR, this has not proved sufficiently adequate. Such a narrow focus on HIV/AIDS specific health services has actually meant less money, not just a comparatively lower amount to the PEPFAR funding, on the ground for general sexual and reproductive health services. Due to this reality, the “wraparound,” while it may seem sound in theory, is not, in fact, a solution on the ground.
From a public health perspective, integration of sexual and reproductive health with HIV/AIDS is simply good medicine, but on the policy end, the individual ideologies of policymakers have interfered with the creation of strong policy to support this end. OGAC needs to work with the international community to implement programming and policy that connects HIV/AIDS to other issues of sexual and reproductive health.
6. On-the-Ground Monitoring of Funded Activities
Over the past four years of PEFAR funding, it has become disturbingly clear that PEPFAR has transformed the landscape of HIV-prevention programming in each of the 15 focus countries in worrisome ways. Not the least of these is that the vast majority of PEFAR funding is going to international or U.S.-based NGOs and, in the process, indigenous NGOs in the focus countries are failing to benefit from this record investment. A quick look at the list of grantees in each country testifies to a lack of investment in building up the capacity for prevention programming among local NGOs, and distributing funds so that they may also carry out HIV-prevention programming. PEPFAR’s largesse will not continue in perpetuity and therefore, investments in local capacity in this area seem among the wisest of investments in a long-term strategy to assist these countries. OGAC should be directed to begin an immediate scaling up of investment in indigenous prevention program providers and to set escalating targets over the next five years that will ensure than at least 50 percent of prevention program funding goes directly to indigenous NGOs. We have a responsibility to these countries and to U.S. taxpayers to invest in system change in these countries, and that begins with building and investing in NGOs on the ground.
7. Eliminate the Clause Which Opens the Door for Implementers to Discriminate Against Certain Populations
The original law included a provision permitting implementers of prevention and treatment programs to opt out of delivery of services that they deemed to go against their religious beliefs. This provision offered a loophole which benefited the implementer more than those in need of prevention and treatment services, deferring to moral frameworks of the implementers instead of championing the evidence-based strategies. It granted the authority to the implementer to pick and choose which elements of a comprehensive approach to utilize, even when doing so undermines the integrity and effectiveness of the overall program. This troublesome provision raised the concerns of advocates early on whether ideology would trump evidence. In the time that has unfolded since the initial roll-out of PEPFAR programs, this provision has shown to be particularly problematic regarding the implementation of HIV-prevention interventions addressing sexual transmission. Many faith-based organizations have experienced a “moral panic” over the delivery of comprehensive prevention services, fearing a contradiction with the moral frameworks on sexuality derived from their faith traditions. The new law expanded this provision to apply to care services in addition to prevention and treatment services. This move is clearly a step in the wrong direction and must be remedied by fully repealing this clause in the next authorization of this law.