May marks the 15th anniversary of one of the United States’ most important and successful initiatives—the President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief, universally known as PEPFAR. First proposed by then-President George W. Bush in January 2003, the initiative has since invested over $80 billion dollars to address HIV/AIDS worldwide and transformed the lives of millions of people around the globe.
The idea was to fight the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the hardest-hit regions of the developing world. The initiative’s first 15 "focus countries" were Botswana, Côte d'Ivoire, Ethiopia, Guyana, Haiti, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Vietnam, and Zambia. In the initial five years, the program aimed to support treatment for 2 million people, prevent 7 million new infections, and care for 10 million people infected or affected by HIV/AIDS. These were stunning goals at a time when fewer than 50,000 Africans had access to HIV/AIDS treatment.
Fifteen years and two 5-year extensions of the program later, PEPFAR supports HIV/AIDS treatment for 14 million men, women and children in over 50 countries. “That’s twice as many [people] as we had just four and a half years ago,” said U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator and U.S. Special Representative for Global Health Diplomacy Deborah Birx at a recent press conference.“Through our work with the countries and partners, we’ve dramatically increased the effectiveness of the program.”
Ambassador Birx added that in addition to saving some 14 million lives, the program has also prevented HIV infection in over 2.2 million babies and cares for 6.4 million orphans, vulnerable children, and their caregivers.
“We’re seeing amazing progress where we really believe that we can achieve our goal of a minimum of 10 countries really getting the epidemic under control in the next three years,” said Ambassador Birx.“This will be an important roadmap for the rest of the world to encourage all of us that we can actually control a pandemic without a vaccine or a cure.”