18.08.2002 Feature Article

Playing Deadly Politics With Family Planning

Playing Deadly Politics With Family Planning
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Even from my office in Ghana, it was clear that the recent U.S. decision to cancel this year's contribution to the United Nations Population Fund had nothing to do with China's abortion policies and everything to do with politics. But that didn't stop my blood from boiling. How could one man--albeit the U.S. president--so easily wager human lives and human hopes for short-term political gain? This decision does nothing about China's population policies. It doesn't help the women of the world who need access to prenatal care, family planning or other reproductive health services. This decision doesn't help those most vulnerable to HIV/AIDS. The only person helped by this decision is President Bush. People say the decision was motivated by a desire to placate the Christian right and those who oppose family planning in the United States. How can a decision that will leave women and children to die be called "Christian"? This decision will undermine and erode established and new reproductive health-care programs in 140 countries, including some of the poorest in the world. The only possible results are those the Bush administration claims it wants to prevent: unwanted pregnancies, unsafe abortions and increased dangers for mothers and infants. At a time when the world has finally begun to grasp the devastating scale and pervasiveness of the AIDS pandemic, this decision could not be more irresponsible. Today, 40 million people are living with HIV/AIDS; some 14,000 more become infected each day. Ninety-five percent of these people live in the developing world, and it's precisely in these locations that the United Nations Population Fund seeks to expand its programs. As an African living in Ghana, not a day goes by that I can forget about this disease, the toll it's taking on my people or how it is ravaging my continent. I am sad for the children of Africa--11 million of whom have been orphaned by AIDS. In high-prevalence countries in sub-Saharan Africa, at least one-third of all boys now age 15 will die of AIDS before their 35th birthday. The future of this continent is dying. The population fund offers a beacon of hope in this otherwise gloomy picture. It has strong relationships with governments and local organizations; the agency is known, respected and trusted by the people it helps. Its programs are also cost-effective. In less developed countries, a dollar or two is enough to buy some medicine, pay for a medical visit or supply contraceptives for three months or more. Sometimes it's enough to save a life. Of course, the $34 million being withheld by the United States may seem insignificant to a nation that spends $100 billion a year on fast food. Regrettably, the decision also marks another step backward for the U.S. on international family planning overall. Nearly a decade ago, I chaired the main committee at the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, where leaders of the world promised to help make universal access to family planning and other reproductive health services a reality for all people. The international community is still little more than halfway toward the spending goals set for 2000 at that conference. Only four countries--the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden and Norway--have met or achieved their "fair share" of the target funding. The United States trails by far. There is word that the U.S. Senate is working on language for next year's budget that will not only restore funding to the population fund but increase it to $50 million. This would be the right thing to do. I hope Congress and the American people will indeed restore funding and make clear to the president how unacceptable his decision is. Fred Sai is advisor to the president of Ghana on reproductive health and HIV/AIDS and on the board of directors of Population Action International. Published on Wednesday, August 14, 2002 in the Los Angeles Times Copyright 2002 Los Angeles Times

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