HIV/AIDS once reached a point where it ravaged lives, giving little hope on how to combat it. The fight against global HIV/AIDS before 2003 almost seemed a futile and fruitless exercise. But a governmental initiative originated by George W. Bush when he was the 43rd president of the United States, together with his wife Laura, has saved millions of lives in Africa.
Lives have been saved, millions have been put on Anti-retroviral Therapy, infected mothers have delivered healthy babies and HIV/AIDS stats have reduced because of voluntary male circumcision because of the President's Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief (PEPFAR/Emergency Plan). PEPFAR is a United States government initiative created with the aim of fighting the global HIV/AIDS epidemic, with a special focus on Africa.
Since being launched in 2003, the initiative has achieved remarkable success and has been hailed as the biggest single disease global health initiative in history. PEPFAR is a huge anchor of the United State's global health efforts. In a statement he issued last year, George W. Bush said, "My administration launched PEPFAR in 2003 to address the HIV/AIDS pandemic that threatened to wipe out an entire generation on the continent of Africa. Nearly 15 years later, the program has achieved remarkable results in the fight against the disease."
"Today, because of the commitment of many foreign governments, investments by partners, the resilience of the African people and the generosity of the American people, nearly 12 million lives have been saved. And nearly 2 million babies have been born HIV-free to infected mothers."
As of this year, PEPFAR has saved more than 16 million lives. PEPFAR has supported more than 14 million men, women, and children on antiretroviral therapy (ART); 2.2 million babies born HIV-free to HIV-positive mothers; 15.2 million men and boys to receive voluntary medical male circumcision (VMMC) to ensure they remain HIV-negative.
In December 2014, PEPFAR announced a program PEPFAR 3.0 focusing on Sustainable Control of the AIDS epidemic. This program was designed to address the UNAIDS "90-90-90" global goal: 90 percent of people with HIV diagnosed, 90 percent of them on ART and 90 percent of them virally suppressed by the year 2020.
PEPFAR has enormously changed the fight against HIV/AIDS. As of 2003, more than 5,000 people were dying from AIDS every day and another 7,000 were being infected with the disease. To make matters worse and uninspiring, treatment options were limited and prohibitively expensive, and the stability of entire nations was threatened by the economic strain and fear caused by the pandemic. But PEPFAR changed this by providing life-saving services to treat and prevent HIV/AIDS in the hardest-hit countries.
There is still a long way to go in the fight against HIV/AIDS, but PEPFAR has done a lot and has given hope. However, unlike Barack Obama, President Trump does not seem keen on expanding the efforts of PEPFAR. In a budget proposal earlier this year, Trump included a 17% cut to HIV/AIDS funding. The enabling legislation that brought PEPFAR to life, the U.S. Leadership Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria Act of 2003 (or the Global AIDS Act, must continue to be funded by Congress.
In his statement last year, Bush said, "In Windhoek, Namibia — where we introduced a partnership with the government, UNAIDS, the Global Fund, and Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon — Laura, the first lady of Namibia and I met some of those newborns and their moms. Almost all the mothers had AIDS, but the babies were disease-free. It was so heartwarming to see those hopeful young lives and their proud, relieved mothers — and it was a powerful reminder that we need to not only keep this effort alive but also do more."
"It is clear that the generosity of the American people has had a huge impact — one that reflects the view that all lives are precious, and to whom much is given, much is required. This lifesaving work also has a practical purpose for Americans. Societies mired in disease breed hopelessness and despair, leaving people ripe for recruitment by extremists. When we confront suffering — when we save lives — we breathe hope into devastated populations, strengthen and stabilize society, and make our country and the world safer."
He further expressed his concern as regards the funding of the program by the US government, urging the government to continue pouring funds into the initiative because it is one that has worked, one that is efficient and effective, and one that is results-oriented.
"Saving nearly 12 million lives is proof that PEPFAR works, and I urge our government to fully fund it. We are on the verge of an AIDS-free generation, but the people of Africa still need our help. The American people deserve credit for this tremendous success and should keep going until the job is done."
Header image credit: cfr.org