Malaria Funding Battle Continues

It is hard to argue against principles of fiscal responsibility – except where lives are at stake. What some might have thought was a somewhat simple matter of continuing the US Government’s Fiscal Year 2006 budget through FY 2007 now appears to be provoking potentially long debates in the US Congress. Associated Press notes that the budget tightening dilemma arises in part because, “There are, however, scores of exceptions for agencies and programs that simply must have increases to avoid imposing furloughs and hiring freezes, or cutting critical services.”

Celebrities are getting into the picture, according to the AP article. “Pressing for a $1 billion boost to fight AIDS, malaria and poverty in Africa, Bono wrestled with (Representative) Obey in a meeting last month – with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., looking on – only to emerge without a commitment. ‘This isn’t over,’ Bono said in a statement issued after the meeting.”

Although the President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI) was underway during FY06, no specific funding was allocated for the program. $30 million was carved out of the existing USAID malaria budget to start PMI in the first three targeted countries. Since then two rounds of announcements have brought the total PMI countries to 15. Another year of ‘borrowed’ $30 million will hardly maintain the PMI in the first three countries let along conduct assessments and begin intervention to save lives in the remainder. A number of malaria advocates argue over how malaria funds should be spent – commodities versus capacity building. This debate will become irrelavant if there are inadequate funds to allocate.

Congress has some tough decisions to make – and the world is watching.

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