Senator Patrick Leahy wants to review US aid to Uganda in wake of the atrocious new anti-Gay law.

“I am deeply concerned by the decision of President Museveni of Uganda to sign into law the anti-homosexuality bill.  I support Secretary of State Kerry and others in calling for its immediate repeal.  Much of U.S. assistance to Uganda is for the people of Uganda, including those in the Ugandan LGBT community whose human rights are being so tragically violated.  But we need to closely review all U.S. assistance to Uganda, including through the World Bank and other multilateral organizations.  I cannot support providing further funding to the Government of Uganda until the United States has undergone a review of our relationship.”

I appreciate the sentiment. Senator Leahy is an experienced legislator and I expect any decision he takes would be thoughtful.  But as others join this debate, there are a few things to keep in mind about US assistance to Uganda that Americans should know before they call for cutting bi-lateral assistance.

The USA earmarked about $480 million in assistance for Uganda last year. About half that funding was distributed through PEPfAR, America’s flagship program to fight HIV/AIDS around the world. The other half went to USAID programs to support the health, development, education and food security. Of those USAID funded programs, totaling $211 million, only about 5% of USAID funding for Uganda passed through the government for specific development projects. The rest went to local or international NGOs and American contractors working on education, health and development programs.

The overwhelming majority of US aid to Uganda is directly to benefit of the Ugandan people. It pays for anti-retrovirals for pregnant mothers so they don’t pass HIV to their babies; it pays for insecticide-treated bed nets; it helps many thousands of women access modern family planning service. Shutting off that aid would hurt some of the most vulnerable people in the country.

The anti-Gay law is horrible. But so is effectively preventing a person living with HIV from accessing her medicine. Let’s hope that as this debate moves forward people keep in mind the morally problematic issues raised by shutting off aid.