Making Gains in Combating AIDS

July 25, 2012 By Zach Silberman

As the world gathers for this week’s AIDS conference in Washington, D.C., there are many accomplishments to highlight in the fight to eradicate this deadly scourge from the world.

During her speech Monday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced the U.S. would provide $80 million in additional funds to assist in fighting global AIDS.  This funding will build upon    the significant progress in lessening the threat of AIDS, particularly through a signature foreign assistance achievement of President George W. Bush: the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).

Among other things, PEPFAR helps provide vital antiretroviral drugs that are used to suppress the HIV virus that causes AIDS.  In 2011, Clinton noted that “more than 5 million” people had received antiretroviral therapy, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa.  The impact of these drugs and other assistance from the PEPFAR program has already been felt across the globe.

The United Nations recently released its progress report on the Millennium Development Goals, an initiative taken on by the world to achieve substantial progress in assisting the world’s poorest individuals by 2015.

According to the report, the number of people dying from AIDS-related causes fell to 1.8 million in 2010, which was down from the peak of 2.2 million deaths in the mid-2000s.  A total of 2.5 million deaths were averted in low- and middle-income countries since 1995 due to antiretroviral therapy.

A recent piece in the New York Times by Nicholas Kristof highlighted a success story of a different type with PEPFAR–from the perspective of African coffin makers who are actually losing business.  During his discussion, he found that a specific coffin maker used to sell 20 coffins a month to account for the severe amount of deaths due to AIDS.  Kristof found out from the coffin maker that he now sells five or six a month for AIDS-related deaths.

PEPFAR’s effect on the global AIDS response illustrates the positive results of particular humanitarian assistance programs supported by the United States.

The AIDS conference provided an opportunity for senior public officials to highlight other successes of this program to improve public health infrastructure across the world.

“An important byproduct of this massive effort on HIV/AIDS has been the improvement of African health systems. PEPFAR and other programs have helped raise professional standards and improve infrastructure,” former President George W. Bush wrote in Washington Post on Monday.

Secretary Clinton emphasized during her remarks opening the conference that, “PEPFAR is shifting out of emergency mode and starting to build sustainable health systems that will help us finally win this fight and deliver an AIDS-free generation. It’s hard to overstate how sweeping or how crucial this change is.”

PEPFAR is a great success story for American foreign assistance, which can be measured in real terms through lives saved and also increased economic productivity and national security through the establishment of more stable societies.  This is just one example of the benefits American taxpayers receive in the strategic investments made through programs in the International Affairs Budget.