Population Services International is a great nonprofit organization — they’ve got all the business skill you’d expect from a creative and up-and-coming company, especially when it comes to brand management and culturally-appropriate marketing. But instead of making the big bucks here in the states these people dedicate their skills in the poorest regions of the world — distributing and convincing people to use safe-water solutions, nutrition supplements, mosquito nets and bedding to prevent malaria, and safe-sex education material and condoms to prevent AIDS. They’ve had an incredible track record over the past decade, applying the practical, level-headed thinking more often found in business than in a field where people often think with their hearts more than their heads. As a PSI spokesman puts it, “We’re dealing with the world as it is. It’s not always pretty.”
Unfortunately, the Bush administration is not long on practical, level-headed thinking. Ultra-religious conservatives have been accusing PSI of “supporting prostitution” because they host educational games to teach prostitutes about safe sex and how to use a condom. These groups no doubt think a better way to stem the world-wide flow of AIDS is to simply convince prostitutes to accept Jesus as their savior and recognize that anything but abstinence before marriage is a sin. Well, it looks like these groups will soon get their chance: the Baltimore Sun reports that USAID decided to cut large amounts of funding for PSI in favor of faith-based organizations:
Contract decisions had typically been made by USAID officials with expertise on the topic, but the July 19 withdrawal decision was made by a high-level political appointee, said a public health official familiar with the region. “It was surprising to yank a [proposal] that was so far advanced,” said the official, who asked not to be named because of the political sensitivity and fear of reprisal.
On Aug. 11, USAID reopened the bidding process, but with significant changes. The agency reduced funding by $3 million, altered selection factors to put less weight on experience, and eliminated the goal of increasing condom usage. It also added language noting “the strength of community and faith-based organizations and their advantages in the fight against HIV/AIDS.”
Michael Magan, deputy assistant administrator for Latin America, declined to comment on the changes in the request. Magan took the post after working in Ohio on President Bush’s 2004 campaign. Previously he was head of the agency’s Office of Faith-Based Initiatives, established by the president.
Not all Republicans are on this crusade — in particular Larry Craig (R-ID), Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Gordon Smith (R-OR) have all asked USAID to reconsider. Let’s hope these senators can speak loud and strong for the part of the Republican party that still believes in reality over fantasy and what works over wishful thinking.
(Thanks to my favorite well of truth for the link!)