I know we’re all worried about Samuel Alito becoming the next nail in the coffin of personal rights, but in the Big Wide World, there are a lot of people dying.

Want to know where a lot of your tax money is going in the fight against AIDS? Well, about a quarter of it is going to the “Just Say No” crowd.

From the AP, courtesy Yahoo News:

President Bush’s $15 billion effort to fight AIDS has handed out nearly one-quarter of its grants to religious groups, and officials are aggressively pursuing new church partners that often emphasize disease prevention through abstinence and fidelity over condom use.

Award recipients include a Christian relief organization famous for its televised appeals to feed hungry children, a well-known Catholic charity and a group run by the son of evangelist Billy Graham, according to the State Department.

More below the fold…

Conservative Christian allies of the president are pressing the U.S. foreign aid agency to give fewer dollars to groups that distribute condoms or work with prostitutes. The Bush administration provided more than 560 million condoms abroad last year, compared with some 350 million in 2001.

Secular organizations in Africa are raising concerns that new money to groups without AIDS experience may dilute the impact of Bush’s historic three-year-old program.

“We clearly recognize that it is very important to work with faith-based organizations,” said Dan Mullins, deputy regional director for southern and western Africa for CARE, one of the best-known humanitarian organizations.

“But at the same time we don’t want to fall into the trap of assuming faith-based groups are good at everything,” Mullins said.

In addition, the Bush Administration is giving money to groups with little or no expertise in the fight against AIDS:

The New Partners Initiative reserves $200 million through the 2008 budget year for community and church groups with little or no background in government grants. Some may have health operations in Africa but no experience in HIV work. Others may be homegrown groups in Africa that have not previously sought U.S. support.

“The notion that because people have always received aid money that they’ll get money needs to end,” Deputy U.S. global AIDS coordinator Mark Dybul said in an interview with The Associated Press. “The only way to have sustainable programs is to have programs that are wholly owned in terms of management personnel at the local level.”

Large nonprofit groups involved in health and development projects typically enlist local religious groups because of their deep community ties.

It’s good to have local organizations doing the work…but it’s important that they know what they’re doing, and it’s also important that the American taxpayers aren’t paying for programs that are questionable. Or that miss a piece of the puzzle:

For prevention, Bush embraces the “ABC” strategy: abstinence before marriage, being faithful to one partner, and condoms targeted for high-risk activity. The Republican-led Congress mandated that one-third of prevention money be reserved for abstinence and fidelity.

Condom promotion to anyone must include abstinence and fidelity messages, U.S. guidelines say, but those preaching abstinence do not have to provide condom education.

The abstinence emphasis, say some longtime AIDS volunteers, has led to a confusing message and added to the stigma of condom use in parts of Africa. Village volunteers in Swaziland maintain a supply of free condoms but say they have few takers.

“This drive for abstinence is putting a lot of pressure on girls to get married earlier,” said Dr. Abeja Apunyo, the Uganda representative for Pathfinder International, a reproductive health nonprofit group based in Massachusetts.

“For years now we have been trying to tell our daughters that they should finish their education and train in a profession before they get married. Otherwise they have few options if they find themselves separated from their husbands for some reason,” Apunyo said.

And of course some groups don’t toe the line as closely as the Religious Reich would prefer:

Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., said that on a tour of Uganda in January he saw pro-abstinence rallies and skits praising Bush, and U.S.-supported groups conducting house-to-house testing, care and counseling.

“The good news about the faith-based groups is not only the passion they bring to the work but it is the moral authority and the extended numbers of volunteers they can mobilize to get the word out,” Smith said.

But Smith believes the administration is wrongly supporting some nonprofit groups. He and several other congressional conservatives wrote to Bush and the U.S. Agency for International Development, contending that several large grant recipients were pro-prostitution, pro-abortion or not committed enough to Bush’s abstinence priorities.

The letters followed a briefing last year by Focus on the Family, run by Christian commentator and Bush ally James Dobson. The group’s sexual health analyst, Linda Klepacki, said even some religious groups emphasize condoms over abstinence.

“We have to be careful that the president’s original intent is being followed where A and B are the emphasized areas of the ABC methodology,” she said.

I’d recommend that you read the entire article, especially noting who got some of this money to fight AIDS, and what they’re doing with it. It’s our tax money, and people’s lives, that are at stake here, folks.

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