The United States is providing $15 billion over five years under the President’s Emergency Program for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR, approved in 2003. If Congress approves the proposal, the program would be extended by five years, during which an estimated 2.5 million people could be treated and nearly 12 million cases of infection could be prevented, the president said Wednesday in the White House Rose Garden.
The program currently funds anti-retroviral treatment for over 800,000 people in “target countries,” including Guyana, Haiti, Vietnam and 12 African nations. PEPFAR also pays for drugs used in other parts of the world for hundreds of thousands of pregnant women and newborn children.
President Bush said that while people who have AIDS in the United States can live a healthy and productive life by taking medicine, in Africa, contracting the virus is “usually a death sentence.”
In spite of the recent efforts, the global number of people carrying the HIV/AIDS virus is around 40 million, and increasing.
“We think a doubling is definitely in order,” Paul Zeitz, executive director of the Washington-based Global AIDS Alliance, told the Washington Post. “Is it enough? No. Do we have to have better policies? Yes. But PEPFAR is still a breakthrough and has had a significant impact.”
President Bush’s announcement came two months after the nonpartisan Institute of Medicine reported that American efforts to curb the spread of AIDS were hampered by the restrictions placed by Congress, including the requirement that one-third of all funding used for prevention be spent on abstinence education. The restrictions also prevented the distribution of clean needles to drug addicts.
The advisory panel of the institute still praised PEPFAR, however, and supported extending the program’s funding.
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Lantos, D-Calif., who co-authored the 2003 legislation, called the proposal “music to my ears.” The congressman also said in a statement that he would look into changing the requirements criticized in the Institute of Medicine’s report.
President Bush also announced that first lady Laura Bush would visit the African nations where PEPFAR funds have been spent in late June.