President Barack Obama‘s February 12 State of the Union Address marked the 10th anniversary of PEPFAR, the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, which was launched in 2003 under President George W. Bush as a targeted effort to reduce the prevalence of HIV/AIDS worldwide . During the State of the Union Address, Obama heralded the seeming success of the plan and said that, if the PEPFAR Blueprint introduced on World AIDS Day (December 1) 2012 is adhered to, an HIV-free generation can be accomplished in as little as 3-5 years. However, what the President did not discuss was the funding cuts to PEPFAR in the past year that have led to the projected closure of at least two HIV/AIDS treatment centers in South Africa, the country with the world’s highest AIDS burden with 5.6 million people there living with HIV/AIDS. Additionally, the Obama Administration has projected a 79% cut in PEPFAR funding for hard-hit Ethiopia.
The President’s budget for the 2013 fiscal year outlines cuts that would result in a total of $220 million funding reduction to PEPFAR and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria. AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) President Michael Weinstein said in a recent statement about Obama’s retreat on the global fight against AIDS that the projected 2013 fiscal year cut in federal funding against AIDS to $6.42 billion from 2012’s budget of $6.63 billion is equal to a loss of care for 640,000 people living with HIV/AIDS for one year.
Prompted into action by this incongruence of rhetoric and fact, a group of students from Yale University in New Haven, CT led by the University’s chapter of the Student Global Health & AIDS Coalition rallied in support of a petition introduced by Global AIDS Partnership on February 14 through the White House website. The petition both commended the President for his “ambitious plans” but also urged him to uphold those promises by ensuring all funding necessary to achieve the outlined goals is made available to “evidence-based, lifesaving HIV/AIDS programs” around the world. The Yale students supported this call to action on February 15 with “Obama, Don’t Break Our Hearts!,” a campus-wide rally raising awareness for the much-needed funding at risk for both PEPFAR and the Global Fund. As of the morning of February 25, the petition had just over 1,300 signatures — the petition, like all petitions submitted through www.whitehouse.gov, requires 100,000 signatures by March 16 to garner White House attention.
AHF is supporting the grassroots advocacy being born from Yale University and is encouraging everyone to SIGN THE PETITION demanding the dedication of resources to ensuring an HIV-free generation. To learn more about the movement led by the Yale Branch of the Student Global Health &AIDS Coalition, watch their YouTube video and visit their Facebook page.
All photos courtesy of the Yale Student Global Health & AIDS Coalition