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Americans-Join Vital Voice to Urge your Congressmen to Strengthen the U.S. Government’s response to HIV/AIDS

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UNAIDS recently reported that an estimated 33.2 million people are infected with HIV worldwide. 6,800 new infections occur daily. During 2006 alone, 2.1 million people died of AIDS. As the HIV/AIDS epidemic continues to mature, it has become evident that the lack of gender equality in many societies is increasing women’s susceptibility to the disease. Today, women represented nearly half (48%) of all HIV-infected persons (rising from 41% since 1997).

The increased feminization of the HIV/AIDS epidemic is oftentimes attributed to gender inequality and cultural practices embedded within societies. Credible links demonstrate that women are more susceptible to HIV infection due to lack of educational and economic opportunities, an inability to negotiate the use of protective measures during intercourse, violence against women, and an inability to access treatment.

Since 2003, the United States has committed through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) a five-year, comprehensive approach for tackling the rising tide of HIV/AIDS throughout the world. PEPFAR has allowed the US to increase attention and funding to address HIV/AIDS in countries where domestic resources are insufficient to curb large-scale epidemics.

While the current legislation offers support to programs specifically addressing the feminization of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, gender issues must be more inclusively addressed as we approach the reauthorization of PEPFAR in 2008. Vital Voices needs you to write letters to your Representatives urging them to strengthen PEPFAR as we begin to prepare for its reauthorization in the upcoming year.

In light of the enormous ramifications that the HIV/AIDS pandemic is wreaking on women and young girls, Vital Voices supports the strengthening of the PEPFAR legislation to include:

* A minimum of $50 billion by 2013 for the fight against HIV/AIDS to double the number of people worldwide on US-supported treatment. Programs that improve access to treatment and patient follow-up should be dramatically scaled-up through the increased funding. In addition, strategies to ensure that women and girls are able to access treatment should be suggested. Vitally important, the PEPFAR reauthorization should scale up programs that comprehensively address care and counseling.

* A holistic approach to address the global ramifications of HIV/AIDS on women and girls. Requirements should be established for addressing gender across all HIV/AIDS programs. Countries receiving PEPFAR funding should be encouraged to improve the overall social, economic, education and legal status of women and girls. Guidance should be offered to recipient countries on best practices in addressing the unique needs of women through all HIV/AIDS program phases.

* Increased collaboration and cooperation between sectors working to combat HIV/AIDS. Countries that actively engage the private sector and civil society are better equipped to address the HIV/AIDS epidemic through the increased capacity of collaborative efforts. Thus, PEPFAR recipient countries should be shown successful means of engaging other sectors within society enabling synergistic programs that are capable of effectively reaching a much larger segment of citizens.

* Additional funding must go towards the research and development of preventive measures. The possibility of developing a vaccine for HIV and ceasing the spread of the disease is worthy of additional attention. Already, researchers have been inspirational in their dedication to create a HIV vaccine and an effective microbicide to more explicitly protect women from infection. However, more funding is needed to see that the ingenious scientists working in this area have the tools necessary to succeed.

* A comprehensive approach to address sex education through formal and non-formal means to ensure that women and girls understand the modes of HIV transmission and protection. The upcoming PEPFAR reauthorization should outline strategies to approach sex education within the formal primary and secondary systems. In addition, the U.S. should compile proven non-formal sex education tactics that have been successfully employed within current PEPFAR recipient countries.

* The enormity of the global HIV/AIDS pandemic requires creative strategies, which are unbound in their methodology and approach. Therefore, the upcoming PEPFAR legislation should not legislatively limit the most appropriate preventative measures. Thus, the PEPFAR reauthorization of 2008 should remove the abstinence only clause and address the HIV/AIDS epidemic on a programmatic level taking into consideration the opinions of those most actively involved in the community to determine what will most effectively prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Vital Voices along with other organizations working towards the elimination of HIV/AIDS hope that through the voices of extraordinary citizens, U.S. policies can provide the impetus for change.

Your support is MUCH NEEDED. It is not too late to take action!

Tell your members of Congress that the HIV/AIDS epidemic and its affects on women and girls is a global issue requiring a global response.

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