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CDC HIV/AIDS/Viral Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update
Senate Approves Sessions' Request to Fight Medical AIDS
Jeffrey McMurray
October 29, 2003
Associated Press (10.28.03) - Wednesday, October 29, 2003

In the Senate on Tuesday, no member objected when Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) proposed amending a foreign aid package to ensure that at least $75 million from the global AIDS bill would go toward the problem of unsafe medical injections in Africa. Sessions had been concerned that health officials wanted to use nearly all of the $15 billion in the AIDS bill to curb sexual transmission of the disease.

Sessions said conservative estimates show that as many as 1,000 people a day in Africa die from unsafe medical treatment. Sessions said his amendment, which would be one of the few mandates from Congress on how the Bush administration should spend the AIDS money, "could save hundreds of thousands of lives." Sessions said he is convinced the World Health Organization has long underestimated the percentage of African HIV cases caused by tainted injections and transfusions. While WHO has assumed 2.5 percent of the cases are medical in nature, most studies show it to be much higher - above 40 percent in at least two. The conflicting research has created division among experts, even within WHO. Some want to direct money toward syringe distribution and blood safety; others fear this would dilute the focus on unsafe sex, which is largely undisputed as the lead cause of AIDS in Africa.

Sessions contends the $15 billion bill, which President Bush signed in May, should focus on both causes. Under his proposal, at least $46 million would be spent on blood safety, and $29 million on injection safety.

Because there was no roll call vote, it is unclear how many senators realized what the amendment would do. The House has already approved its version of the foreign operations bill; Sessions' amendment could face challenges when negotiators come together to resolve differences.