Fifteen years ago, President George W. Bush announced the launch of PEPFAR – the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief – during his State of the Union address, declaring that “this nation can lead the world in sparing innocent people from a plague of nature.”
At the time of his address in 2003, 30 million people across Africa were living with HIV/AIDS, including 3 million children – and of those infected, only 50,000 were receiving treatment. Today, more than 13 million men, women, and children are on life-saving antiretroviral drugs thanks to PEPFAR, and over 2 million babies have been born HIV-free to infected mothers.
In South Africa, Irene gave birth to a healthy baby girl despite her status – and today she is mentoring other HIV-positive moms. In Tanzania, a young boy named Gilbert learned how to manage his disease – the same disease that killed his mother – through a support group for kids living with HIV. And in Kenya, PEPFAR’s new initiative aimed at empowering adolescent women helped Felesia, a single mother with HIV, find a job to support her family and save for her education.
PEPFAR’s incredible reach is due in large part to its wildly successful model. By coordinating efforts across U.S. government agencies, harnessing the power of the private sector, and working directly with local governments and partners on the ground – PEPFAR has secured its place in history as one of the most effective and impactful public health initiatives of all time. Just 15 years after its creation, PEPFAR is poised to achieve epidemic control – without a vaccine or a cure.
President Trump may not have mentioned PEPFAR or its anniversary in his own State of the Union address last night, but he did call on Congress to “ensure American foreign-assistance dollars always serve American interests.” That’s exactly what PEPFAR does. When communities are free from the deadly grip of HIV and AIDS – families remain whole, work productivity increases, economies grow and once struggling countries can stabilize, becoming valuable trading partners and key American allies.
With an AIDS-free generation finally within sight, we cannot afford to scale back our investments in PEPFAR’s lifesaving work. Fortunately, both parties in Congress have long recognized PEPFAR’s value – and in light of the House and Senate’s call for level funding in FY18 budget guidance, we can expect bipartisan support for PEPFAR to continue. And it’s crucial that it does. As President George W. Bush remarked at the U.S. Embassy in Namibia last year, “there is more work to be done…we can’t stop at this stage of the effort of saving human life.”
photo credit: U.S. State Department Archive