US refuses $34m for Population Fund

Posted: 19 July 2004

The Bush administration will withhold $34 million in congressionally approved assistance to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) because of the fund's alleged connection to China and forced abortions.

The State Department said it was convinced the fund helped China manage programmes that involved forced abortions. US Secretary of State, Colin Powell said in a letter to Congress that the administration would continue to help women and children around the world through other programmes.

This was the third year the Bush administration had blocked congressional assistance to UNFPA, despite the results of an investigation carried out two years ago by the State Department, who found no evidence of the funding being linked to coercive abortions. The U.S. administration's decision was 'regrettable', UNFPA said. The money was urgently needed to slow the spread of HIV/AIDS, prevent maternal deaths, provide family planning and reduce recourse to abortion. The administration's assertion that UNFPA supports coerced abortions in China, is baseless, the Fund added.

"The United States' contribution could have saved thousands of lives," said Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, UNFPA's Executive Director.

Billion adolescents

With over one billion adolescents entering their reproductive years and demand for reproductive health services increasing all over the world, the agency said each dollar makes a difference. UNFPA estimates that the withheld $34 million could have helped prevent as many as 2 million unwanted pregnancies and nearly 800,000 abortions; 4,700 maternal deaths and over 77,000 infant and child deaths in many countries. The funds could also have been used to scale up promising maternal health and HIV-prevention efforts.

"Historically, the United States has been a world leader in promoting reproductive health and family planning and we hope it will take up that role again," said Ms. Obaid. "Promoting global health and alleviating poverty are urgent tasks that require strong partnerships and international cooperation."

UNFPA works in nearly 140 countries to increase access to reproductive health services, including family planning, to promote safe motherhood, and to prevent unintended pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections and HIV/AIDS, including among adolescents.

The United States is the only country to deny funding to UNFPA for non-budgetary reasons.

The Republican-led House Appropriations Committee, meanwhile, has blocked a proposal to spend $25 million for a family planning programme by the United Nations in Iraq, Afghanistan and four Asian and African countries.

Abstinence-only

In a separate development, UK International Development Minister Gareth Thomas, has publicly rejected the Bush administration's support for abstinence as the "best way" to curb the spread of HIV. He also said that Britain does not support US policies concerning generic antiretroviral drugs (ARVs).

Attending the XV International AIDS Conference,in Bangkok, Thomas said: "We work with the Americans in a whole variety of ways, but we have a difference of views on abstinence-only campaigns."

He added that Britain would continue to fund the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) and the groups' "excellent HIV, sexual and reproductive health work."

The United States has been criticized throughout the conference for its support of funding for abstinence-only education as well as its policies on generic ARVs. The law authorizing the US President's plan for AIDS relief specifies that one third of the bill's HIV/AIDS prevention funding should be used for abstinence and monogamy programmes.

Interviewed for BBC Today programme at the Bangkok conference, Dr Steven Sinding of IPPF criticised the US stance on abstinence-only programmes in place of providing condoms and information to halt the spread of the AIDS epidemic. Dr Sinding said:"We don't oppose abstinence, quite the contrary we believe it has an important role to play - not least delaying sexual debut. But abstinence can and does fail and there is no scientific evidence that abstinence-only programmes have been successful in reducing HIV transmission...For young people knowledge, information and condoms are the first line of defence." Source: Push Journal 11th July,2004