(GIN) – In his recent visit to Zimbabwe, U.S. Ambassador Harry Thomas Jr reassured health officials that no cuts were planned in the emergency plan for AIDS relief (PEPFAR) which, he said, would likely grow to almost $150 million by next year.
“The United States government will maintain funding for HIV interventions to Zimbabwe regardless of its new administration,” the ambassador said hopefully, on the occasion of the Harare International Festival of the Arts. International aid was not cut in the country’s budget announced recently, he maintained.
“This means we are able to continue saving lives through PEPFAR as well as feed about 2.4 million people a day in Zimbabwe through other assistance programs. International aid has not been affected. Congress did not cut international aid.”
Ambassador Thomas’ remarks were in response to fears by many that people depending on the US Government’s support for either medication or food might suffer if President Donald Trump insisted on cutting international aid.
Their fears may not be unfounded, however. Back in Washington this week, the Trump administration repeated its earlier pledge to vastly expand the scope of a policy blocking U.S. assistance to foreign groups that perform or provide information about abortions – a move critics say will hinder women’s access to critical care.
The new policy means that $8.8 billion in U.S. assistance to an array of programs fighting HIV/AIDS, malaria and maternal and child health will be subject to the so-called Mexico City policy.
That policy, introduced in 1984, holds that no U.S. government funding for family planning services can be given to foreign clinics or groups that offer abortion services or discuss abortion, even if the funds for those activities come from non-U.S. government sources.
For example, if a foreign nongovernmental organization spends 50 percent of its budget on sexual and reproductive health services, including counseling, referrals, or services related to abortion with its own non-US funds, but receives the other 50 percent of its budget from the US to provide vaccinations for babies, nutritional supplements, or treatment for HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis (TB), that group must now choose between losing its US funding and restricting or cutting its reproductive health programs.
U.S. officials said the malaria and HIV/AIDS programs would be resilient even if the United States had to deny funding to existing healthcare providers.
A senior administration official, who requested anonymity, told reporters: “We have a diversity of partners who are providing services and that would be available to continue those services”. w/pix of Amb. Harry Thomas Jr. , center, in dark blue shirt