In 2003, an extraordinary thing happened. For the first time, the United States government took a bold and decisive step to address a disease that was taking millions of lives and leaving millions of children orphaned. The new program was unprecedented in scope, setting goals that were ambitious and bringing together people with very different political, policy and practitioner viewpoints. It was a massive undertaking, led by an unlikely champion, who used his political capital to push through a program that had no political benefit, but was simply the right thing to do.
This champion was President George W. Bush and the program was the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).
In the 10 years since PEPFAR launched, it has had a profound impact. A recent independent evaluation found that PEPFAR has expanded services for prevention; testing; clinical care and treatment, including antiretroviral therapy; and nonclinical care and support. It also has provided unprecedented support for programs for orphans and other vulnerable children and adolescents living with or affected by HIV. Through PEPFAR, millions of children have been born HIV-free.
PEPFAR has been transformative. I had the opportunity not too long ago to hear from a mother in Zambia who is HIV-positive. She said profoundly that without PEPFAR, her country would not exist. Millions upon millions of lives have been saved in Zambia and across the world. However as with many government programs, PEPFAR funding is at risk. Suddenly people who have access to treatment, care and support are threatened with that lifeline being taken away.
It’s not always easy for legislators to make the right decision, one that may not be politically popular or fully understood by their constituents. However, as George W. Bush did in 2003, we must demand our legislators do in 2013 – support PEPFAR and its lifesaving efforts. It was the right thing to do then and it’s the right thing to do now.
To make sure programs like PEPFAR continue, encourage our leaders to protect foreign assistance funds. [this action has expired]