In a rare show of bipartisanship, in mid-November the House and Senate swiftly passed new legislation to reauthorize the President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (PEPFAR) for five years. PEPFAR is a U.S. government initiative launched in 2003 by President George Bush to help fight HIV/AIDS in heavily-impacted countries.
Currently, approximately 6 million people around the world receive antiretroviral treatment through PEPFAR. This past year, more than 45 million people were tested and received counselling. PEPFAR’s early intervention programs have enabled 1 million children of HIV-positive mothers to be born HIV-free.
In addition to extending the program for five more years, the new legislation also seeks to strengthen oversight and reporting of PEPFAR. But the extension does not guarantee funding. Congress will still need to appropriate funds for PEPFAR through the annual federal budgeting process.
One of the most successful global health programs, PEPFAR’s extension comes at a critical juncture in the fight against global HIV/AIDS. While new infections still occur, evidence shows that current prevention and treatment programs have saved millions of lives. The vision for an AIDS-free generation is increasingly attainable—if there continues to be enough political will and financial resources to realize it.
While PEPFAR has historically enjoyed bipartisan support, funding for the programs has decreased in the last three years. This is a worrying trend because millions of people around the world depend on PEPFAR support for treatment and care. Stories of clinics having to turn people away due to funding cuts abound.
Jesus taught that loving God and loving our neighbor are the two greatest commandments. Love includes treating each other with dignity and fairness. It is our duty, then, to ensure that those who cannot afford antiretroviral medicines and other services receive them.
As we commemorate World AIDS day on December 1, we are reminded of the strength and determination of both those who are impacted by HIV/AIDS and those who care for them. Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) has been working with communities in countries such as Indonesia, supporting health systems, orphanages, and prevention trainings.