Thursday October 25 10:45 AM ET

Senate Okays Foreign AIDS Money

By Todd Zwillich

WASHINGTON (Reuters Health) - The US Senate on Wednesday night approved $415 million in international aid next year geared toward prevention and treatment of HIV and AIDS.

The package includes $40 million for the Global Fund for AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria announced by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan last summer. The money is in addition to $50 million for the fund approved earlier this fall and $100 million expected in the upcoming Senate Labor/Health and Human Services appropriations bill.

It puts Senate on pace to contribute $190 million to the fund in Fiscal 2002, $10 million shy of the $200 million President George W. Bush had requested as an initial investment for the global fund.

Several legislators including Sens. Joseph Biden (D-DE) and William Frist (R-TN), have proposed spending $750 million on the fund over the next 2 years, though their efforts have been largely sidelined as the legislators prioritize security and terrorism issues.

"It's not enough, but its as much as we're going to get done at this moment,'' Biden said of the AIDS money in an interview with Reuters Health. Biden chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Annan has said that the fund will require $7 billion to $10 billion to be effective in drastically reducing the rate of HIV infections in poor African and Asian countries.

The House earlier this year approved $250 million for the fund, meaning that Congress could eventually meet the president's request when the two bodies negotiate final numbers.

The money came as part of a broad foreign aid spending package. Senators approved the measure 98-2 after disputes over the pace of judicial nominations held up a vote on the legislation for days.

Fifteen million of the total $415 million for international AIDS work is earmarked toward development of anti-HIV microbicides, while $10 million was steered toward an international AIDS vaccine fund. The bill gives an additional $175 million to address other infectious diseases, including tuberculosis and malaria.