One of the most effective programs in the fight against AIDS is the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR. The program was first authorized by Congress in May 2003. It initially started as a way to help the people of Africa, where the AIDS epidemic was most concentrated. Now, PEPFAR has international and domestic programs that fight AIDS in over 50 countries.
Poverty and HIV
The prevalence of HIV/AIDS is widely recognized to correlate with impoverished rural and urban areas. Poverty is not a necessary condition for contracting HIV. However, it can be related to risky sexual behaviors, such as participation in sex at a young age and prostitution. Poverty can also lead to inadequate sexual education or resources that would assist in preventing AIDS.
The underlying factors in poor areas that increase the risk of AIDS — violence, social mobility, economic strain and access to education — need to be addressed. Tackling risk factors as a method of prevention has already proven to be largely successful in fighting AIDS internationally. Further, that approach has helped families simultaneously fight sources of intergenerational poverty.
When President George W. Bush announced PEPFAR at the State of the Union, he said of the program: “seldom has history offered a greater opportunity to do so much for so many… And to meet a severe and urgent crisis abroad, tonight I propose the Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, a work of mercy beyond all current international efforts to help the people of Africa. This comprehensive plan will prevent seven million new AIDS infections, treat at least two million people with life-extending drugs and provide humane care for millions of people suffering from AIDS and for children orphaned by AIDS.”
Today, PEPFAR has far exceeded its once lofty goals. The program has provided over 18 million people with HIV treatments and helpful services, like cervical screenings and education programs. To celebrate its incredible success, PEPFAR launched a new website in July 2020. It provides a timeline of scientific discoveries, legislation and social outreaches pivotal in the worldwide fight against AIDS.
Starting in 1981, the timeline explores the first known cases of AIDS in the U.S. and Africa. It moves on to facts about school education about AIDS and global programs like the World Health Organization’s Global Program on Aids (1987). A few tabs later, it relates the explosion of Congressional funding and legislation for PEPFAR and allied programs circa 2006 all the way to present day, 2020.
Additionally noted are milestones, such as PEPFAR’s 10th anniversary marking one million HIV-free babies born due to PEPFAR programs. This corresponds to the increased financial investment by the U.S., which proves the initiative’s substantial success.
PEPFAR is not satisfied with resting on its existing laurels, however. The same month PEPFAR released its celebratory website, PEPFAR also announced its latest report and upcoming budget. The new budget doubles funding for its HIV program that helps adolescent girls and young women to $400 million.
The program has so far helped over 1.5 million women and girls in only six months in 2019 and decreased HIV cases in that demographic by 25% since 2014. The new budget additionally increases PEPFAR’s cervical screening program, Go Further, by 70%. Together these effective programs are only a small piece of PEPFAR’s astonishing $85 billion total investment over the past 17 years of its existence.
– Elizabeth Broderick