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Sunday, December 03, 2006

Center Unveils Probe In Bush Emergency AIDS Plan

The Center for Public Integrity has released released "Divine Intervention," a year-longinvestigation into how President Bush's $15 billion initiative for care,treatment and prevention of HIV/AIDS abroad has failed countries struggling with the pandemic.

The special report, the first of its kind to examine the policies,politics and goals of the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), looks at its effects on specific "focus countries," as well as India and Thailand, where the sex-trade industry is driving high rates of infection.

Reporters affiliated with the center's International Consortium of Investigative Journalists in Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Uganda, South Africa, Haiti, India and Thailand found that faith-based ideology -- including abstinence -- often trumps science in the guise of federal rules, regulations and support of the organizations receiving taxpayer money.

More than three years after PEPFAR's creation, about $8.3 billion has been spent with less than $1 billion going to prevention in the 15 focus countries. Meanwhile, the number of people with HIV continues to rise internationally, with 75 percent infected through sexual intercourse.

More than 450 people contracted HIV each hour last year, resulting in more than 4 million new cases.

"The goals and directives established by PEPFAR have stifled HIV/AIDSprevention efforts in countries such as Thailand and Uganda, formallyrecognized as success stories, and disregarded countries such as Swaziland, Lesotho and Zimbabwe," says Wendell Rawls, center interim executive director and Divine Intervention project manager. "Sadly, 'compassionate conservatism' seems not to have been the most effective way to prevent the spread of the disease."

Interviews with scores of activists, people living with HIV/AIDS, physicians, health care workers, government officials and academics, and an examination of thousands of pages of incomplete documents, also reveal a pattern of contradictory, conflicting and confusing policies.

For Divine Intervention, CPI filed two dozen Freedom of Information requests and lawsuits against the State Department, Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) toaccess information about PEPAR, which is managed through the Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator (OGAC) at the State Department.

During their investigations, ICIJ reporters say they encountered PEPFAR officials who couldn't answer basic questions about the programs they oversaw, PEPFAR recipients who were reluctant to criticize their donor out of fear of losing funding and Freedom of Information Act requests that were stalled for months. Requests for interviews and information from OGAC's Washington office were often ignored or canceled, dozens of phone calls andemails never returned, and database information that was provided contained errors.


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