U.S. leadership on AIDS, TB and malaria at stake as impasse continues on landmark bill

Washington, DC (July 1, 2008) — The Senate’s failure to pass legislation to continue the fight against AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria is a great disappointment for a world struggling to thwart these diseases, said RESULTS, a citizens lobby focused on global health and poverty.

“This bill restores hope for millions around the world who lack access to treatment for these infectious killers,” said Joanne Carter, incoming executive director of RESULTS. “We must not allow the obstinacy of a few individuals to destroy that hope.”

Advocates had hoped for passage of the Lantos-Hyde U.S. Leadership Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria Reauthorization Act of 2008 before the July 4 recess. With a firm U.S. commitment in hand, President Bush would be more likely to convince his colleagues at the G8 Summit to make similar pledges on global health. The summit takes place July 7-9.

“The Senate could give the president the leverage he needs if they pass this bill on July 8 when they return from recess,” said Carter. “It’s a great opportunity that will fall by the wayside if an agreement isn’t reached soon.”

The pending legislation provides up to $50 billion over the next five years to treat and prevent the three diseases responsible for the deaths of more than five million people in the world each year. It calls for achieving the goals of providing HIV/AIDS treatment for 3 million people, preventing 12 million new HIV infections and caring for 12 million people affected by AIDS, including 5 million orphans, as well as significantly scaling up treatment for tuberculosis.

The bill’s expanded tuberculosis component is timely in light of an announcement by the World Health Organization, the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics (FIND) and other partners that a cutting-edge method of diagnosing dangerous multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) is available to be rolled out in developing countries. The test would reduce initial detection time from two months to two days. TB is especially deadly in people with HIV/AIDS, and the new diagnostic could save untold lives both in speeding correct treatment to those with the disease, and preventing transmission to others.

“The funding provided in this legislation would allow the U.S. to play a key role in the scale-up of these kind of technologies, and in the massive unfinished work to stop over a million and a half TB deaths each year,” said Carter. “It is imperative that this bill move forward.”

After sailing through the House by a 3-to-1 margin in April, the bill has stalled in the Senate, initially because of the objections of seven senators led by Republican Tom Coburn of Oklahoma. Sen. Coburn has since reached agreement with Senate leadership, but several senators – including Sen. DeMint of South Carolina – still stand in the way. Many observers fear the bill could die in the Senate if it fails to pass before the August recess, as most legislation will be put on hold as the campaign season heats up.

“Senators Harry Reid, Richard Lugar and Joe Biden have made heroic efforts to move this bill along. It’s time for the holdouts to step aside so that America can finish the job we started six years ago,” said Carter.

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