Ten years ago, AIDS was truly a death sentence in Africa. It threatened the very foundation of societies – creating millions of orphans, stalling economic development and leaving countries stuck in poverty. Yet today, we are well on our way to creating an AIDS-free generation.
The remarkable progress we’ve made in just one decade is due in large part to America’s landmark initiative the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, known as PEPFAR. The visionary leadership of the Congressional Black Caucus and President George W. Bush and led to the establishment of the program in 2003 with an initial $15 billion to fight HIV and AIDS worldwide.
PEPFAR is the largest commitment by any nation to combat a single disease internationally, and it has saved and improved millions of lives. Today, thanks to the ongoing, bipartisan U.S. commitment to PEPFAR, hope has replaced despair, life has replaced death, and productivity has replaced illness and disability.
This bipartisan program is a tremendous success. PEPFAR’s initial aim was to provide treatment to 2 million people living with HIV, to prevent 7 million new HIV infections, and to provide care and support to 10 million people by 2010.
The program has been a resounding success, far exceeding those initial goals. PEPFAR directly supports nearly 5.1 million people undergoing treatment for HIV, and has contributed to a 20 percent reduction in new HIV infections globally. This month, the program reached a remarkable milestone when the one-millionth infant was born HIV-free, thanks to PEPFAR.
In 2008, I added an amendment to PEPFAR’s reauthorization to build in-country health worker training to help countries take ownership in their responsibility to care for their people. I also authored an amendment to allow American land grant colleges and universities and Historically Black Colleges and Universities to participate in programs to increase the technological and teaching capacity of African professional institutions to prepare their students for careers in public health. I am proud to say that through PEPFAR, we have helped empower many countries to improve their own health care delivery systems.
Institutions in Maryland are also playing an important role in our global fight against HIV/AIDS. Research being done by organizations like the National Institutes of Health, Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland is making a difference worldwide; and Maryland NGO’s like Catholic Relief Services of Baltimore are partnering with us in our efforts to wipe out HIV/AIDS.
Despite the remarkable progress that these partnerships have produced, we still have challenges ahead of us. According to UNAIDS, an estimated 1.7 million people are dying annually from AIDS-related causes. Global health and development resources are being squeezed due to difficult economic times.
The U.S. will continue to lead this global fight, but we need the commitment and leadership of partner countries- reinforced with support from donor nations, civil society, people living with HIV, faith-based organizations, the private sector, foundations, and the Global Fund- in order to see an HIV-free generation in our lifetime.
PEPFAR represents the best of what our government can do when we put aside partisanship for the good of humanity. It represents the very best of America and our commitment to global humanitarian values. It is a testament to the power of thinking big and of dreaming big, and we must continue to do just that to conquer this disease once and for all.