Lawmakers Work on Package to Help Africa in AIDS Crisis

House lawmakers have agreed on a $15 billion package to fight the global AIDS epidemic, compromising on how the money will be used and sidestepping a divisive abortion issue.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee also readied a vote for Thursday on a similar anti-AIDS plan, first outlined by President Bush in his State of the Union address in January.

The House plan, crafted by International Relations Committee Chairman Henry Hyde, R-Ill., and the panel's top Democrat, Tom Lantos of California, would approve $3 billion a year over five years for international efforts to fight the global threat from HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis. Fifty-five percent would go to treatment, with most of the rest for palliative care and prevention.

The legislation, Lantos said in a statement Monday, "translates our outrage and compassion into concerted international action."

Hyde said 25 million people have died from AIDS, and that -- beyond the crisis in sub-Saharan Africa -- Russia, India and China face potentially catastrophic epidemics.

The negotiators avoided an issue that has dogged U.S. contributions to international family planning groups by agreeing not to apply the "Mexico City policy" that has barred U.S. aid to groups that support abortion. The White House earlier expressed support for including the anti-abortion language.

The House lawmakers also decided that up to $1 billion of the funds for the 2004 budget year could go to the Swiss-based, U.N.-administered Global Fund to Combat HIV/AIDS. The fund would receive "such funds as necessary" in the remaining four years.

The administration had sought only $1 billion over five years for the fund. The House compromise, addressing concerns about the fund's management practices, requires periodic monitoring and evaluation of the fund by the congressional General Accounting Office.

The measure also endorses the "ABC" approach to fighting AIDS that has been successful in Uganda. It stresses abstinence, being faithful and, when appropriate, the use of condoms.

The legislation, said Mark Isaac, vice president of the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, "could truly be a turning point in the world's efforts to stop the deadly AIDS pandemic."

The legislation could reach the House floor some time in April, aides said.