New battle for US AIDS charities

October 2005

US charities set up to fight AIDS are now faced with a new battle: a requirement by the federal government to pledge their opposition to sex trafficking and prostitution if they want to continue receiving federal funds.

The anti-prostitution pledge requirement, part of the 2003 Global AIDS Act, has applied to overseas recipients of US funds since Congress passed the bill, but the Justice Department initially questioned whether applying the requirement to US organisations would be in breach of the US constitution. The department has now given the pledge requirement the go-ahead.

Many US-based AIDS charities have expressed strong opposition to the pledge requirement, and some have also questioned its constitutionality. An open letter to the President, signed by a diverse group of public health and human rights organisations, expresses concern that "these restrictions will preclude recipients of U.S. funds from using the best practices at their disposal to prevent HIV/AIDS among [sex workers] and to promote the fundamental human rights of all persons."

There is also concern that the pledge requirement will stop help reaching vulnerable young people. People aged between 15 and 24 now account for nearly half of all HIV infections worldwide.

Terri Bartlett, vice president for public policy at Population Action International, told Bulb:

It further stigmatizes those young people who happen to be involved in commercial sex work and who are already victims. It’s yet another blow to comprehensive prevention programs that have a proven success record. Between this pledge requirement and the U.S. policy that stipulates that one-third of prevention funding for HIV/AIDS programs be set aside for abstinence-until marriage programs, it is becoming increasingly difficult to reach at-risk populations and stop the spread of HIV/AIDS.