The Senate voted Wednesday to triple spending for a much-acclaimed program that has treated and protected millions in Africa and elsewhere from the scourges of AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis.
The 80-16 vote committed the United States to spending up to $48 billion over the next five years for the most ambitious foreign public health program ever launched by the United States.
The bill passed by the House in April approved $50 billion, including $5 billion for malaria, $4 billion for tuberculosis and $41 billion for AIDS. Of the AIDS money, a proportion—$2 billion next year—would go to the international Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Actual spending levels still have to be approved in annual appropriations bills.
Earlier Wednesday, the Senate, acceding to arguments that Congress must also address humanitarian issues closer to home, agreed to set aside $2 billion of the $50 billion for American Indian water, health and law enforcement projects.
The Senate vote came after months of negotiations with Senate conservatives wanting assurances that the new AIDS bill would continue to include programs promoting abstinence and fidelity and would not discriminate against religious groups in allotting funding.
Senate changes will have to be worked out with the House. Those include a measure added to the Senate bill by Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Gordon Smith, R-Ore., that would reverse a policy that has made it difficult for HIV-positive foreigners to visit or seek residency in the United States.
“For 20 years the United States has barred HIV-positive travelers from entering the country even for one day,” said Rachel B. Tiven, executive director of Immigration Equality. “Today the Senate said loud and clear that AIDS exceptionalism must come to an end.”