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Policy & Politics
Tobias Rescinds Document Requiring Groups Receiving Money Through Global Fund to Oppose Commercial Sex Work

May 18, 2005

U.S. Ambassador Randall Tobias, head of the State Department's Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator, has rescinded a CDC document issued last week that would have required not-for-profit groups receiving money through the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria to publicly state their opposition to commercial sex work and sex trafficking, according to an HHS spokesperson, the Washington Post reports (Brown, Washington Post, 5/18). Under the Bush administration's policy -- which stems from two 2003 laws involving HIV/AIDS funding and sex trafficking -- both overseas and U.S. HIV/AIDS organizations have to make a written pledge opposing commercial sex work or risk losing federal HIV/AIDS funding, even if the groups' work does not involve commercial sex workers. The Department of Justice initially told the administration that the requirement should be applied to overseas groups only because of constitutional free speech concerns in applying it to U.S. organizations, but DOJ in 2004 reversed itself and said that the administration could apply the rule to U.S. groups (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 2/28). Although multilateral organizations, including the Global Fund and U.N. agencies, are exempt from the requirement, the CDC document would have required the approximately 3,000 groups in 128 countries that receive Global Fund money to publicly oppose commercial sex work and sex trafficking. However, HHS spokesperson Kevin Keane said the document "hadn't been fully reviewed and cleared" and that Tobias ordered the document be removed. "Somebody is ahead of their headlights," Tobias said on Sunday, adding that the policy outlined in the CDC document "is not one I have seen and considered," nor is it "something that I would want to sign off on one way or another."

The new policy potentially would have caused "a mixture of fear and resentment in some nations," according to the Post. Many AIDS organizations say that the policy hinders their HIV/AIDS prevention and care activities because it stigmatizes commercial sex workers, a "crucial risk group," the Post reports. A group of organizations -- including CARE, the International Rescue Committee, Save the Children and the International Center for Research on Women -- in February sent a letter to Tobias denouncing the existing policy. Maurice Middleburg, acting president of the international public health organization EngenderHealth, said that groups "ris[k] further stigmatizing a population that is already very difficult to reach" if they sign the pledge. In addition, the Global Fund might have risked losing its U.S. funding if it had refused to enforce the policy. The fund, which has been in operation for four years, so far has committed $3 billion in grants, and one-third of that funding is from the United States (Washington Post, 5/18).

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