South Africa: 1,000 protest U.S. AIDS funding cuts

In Global, South Africa by AHF


PEPFAR funding cuts contributed to the closure of McCord Hospital and its AIDS clinic in Durban as well as the end of care and services to many AIDS patients already on lifesaving antiretroviral treatment (ART)

DURBAN, SOUTH AFRICA (March 18, 2013)-An estimated 1,000 advocates from AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) and other AIDS and community groups in South Africa hosted an advocacy march on Friday 15 March 2013 to denounce recent funding cuts made by President Barack Obama’s administration to the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the landmark US global AIDS program which has save millions of lives worldwide.

In mid-February, as the US observed the tenth anniversary of PEPFAR, which President George W. Bush first proposed in his 2003 State of the Union address, the effects of devastating—and deadly—cuts to PEPFAR were beginning to be felt around the world. In its Fiscal Year 2013 budget, the Obama administration cut funding for PEPFAR—the first US president ever to reduce global AIDS funding. One immediate effect in South Africa: the respected AIDS clinic (Sini’kithemba clinic) at McCord Hospital in Durban closed as a result of reduced global funding including the PEPFAR cuts.

Bullet Points on PEPFAR Cuts

  • cutbacks to PEPFAR are hindering the fight against AIDS. In South Africa, the closing of many NGO’s including clinics providing HIV treatment including Sinik’ithemba at McCord’s Hospital in part due to PEPFAR’s reluctance to continue funding. The closing of Sinik’ithemba led to 4,000 HIV-positive adults and 1,000 children scrambling to find a place to receive care and treatment;
  • PEPFAR cuts signify a retreat on AIDS by the Obama Administration; it shows that the Obama administration believes the lives of HIV positive individuals are expendable;
  • The idea of “shared responsibility” or justifying cuts by saying the South African government wants to have ownership of its HIV/AIDS response is simply an excuse. We should use ALL available resources to fight AIDS and that means the United States government doing all it can do the South African government doing all it can do as well. It is by no means supposed to be a situation where one effort replaces the other or in the case of Sinik’ithemba at McCord’s, leaves a gap in services for people living with HIV;
  • The idea of “ownership” or “shared responsibility” is not rhetoric that was established by recipient countries but is really just a fancy way of saying the US is not committed to staying the course in the fight against AIDS;
  • In retrospect, President Obama’s promise to scale up treatment to 6 million people by 2013 was a case of lip service and pandering on World AIDS Day. We are seeking a measurable scale up of treatment not a retreat on AIDS;
  • The evidence that treatment works as prevention is the hope and blueprint we have wanted for years in order to see an end to AIDS. How can we get to an end of AIDS if PEPFAR & the US government fail to keep its promises?
  • A consequence of the Obama Administration’s retreat on AIDS is a reduction in funding of about $220 million;
  • We call for a full funding of PEPFAR; a scale up of treatment and renewed commitment to continue allocate resources to the fight against HIV/AIDS.

“By all accounts, PEPFAR has been a tremendous success, saving millions of lives while also serving as one of America’s most successful diplomacy efforts over the past decade,” said Michael Weinstein, President of AIDS Healthcare Foundation. “However, President Obama is also the first U.S. president to cut global AIDS funding, a shameful retreat at a time when, according to World Health Organization, there are 6.8 million who need treatment now but aren’t receiving it, and at a time when we are seeing the real impact of treatment on saving lives and reducing new infections.”

In Fiscal-Year 2012, federal funding for global AIDS was $6.63 billion. President Obama’s fiscal year 2013 budget proposed spending $6.42 billion. “In human terms, that difference represents 640,000 people with HIV/AIDS that could receive lifesaving AIDS treatment for one year,” added Weinstein.

In order to break the chain of new infections, policy experts agree that the widespread scale up treatment and testing is needed; however, a majority of existing PEPFAR and other global AIDS money is still not spent on this. “At least 50% of funding has to be focused on testing and treatment,” added Tom Myers, AHF’s Chief of Public Affairs. “And while we may reach six million people on treatment this year, that number is simply not enough to get us to President Obama’s ‘AIDS-free generation’ while there are 34 million people with HIV/AIDS around the globe.

Sadly, President Obama’s highly touted goal of an ‘AIDS-free generation’—which received only a glancing mention in his own State of the Union address February 12—is unlikely to be achieved.

Background on PEPFAR

Since the creation of PEPFAR under President George W. Bush in 2003, the U.S.’s commitment to global AIDS grew from less than $1 billion to today’s present levels, and the lifesaving results have been nothing short of miraculous. In combating a disease that affects over 34 million, U.S. generosity today helps provide treatment for over 5.2 million people with HIV/AIDS worldwide, preventing premature deaths and while helping to prevent millions of new HIV infections. However, funding increases stalled under President Obama, despite Congressional approval for increased spending – which approval then-Senator Obama also supported. Now, as President, Obama is presiding over America’s retreat on global AIDS.

Last year, Obama’s cutbacks to PEPFAR led to a decision in South Africa to shut down McCord Hospital and its respected AIDS clinic in Durban. Ironically, this action came about a few months after President Obama announced that the United States would scale up its commitment to fighting AIDS by providing treatment for up to 6 million people by 2013. However, its budget proposal for fiscal year 2013 indicated that the Administration actually cut funding for PEPFAR and intended to scale up contributions to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. As a consequence of the proposed changes, the combined funding for both programs would be significantly reduced by about $220 million, inevitably leading to reduced services and treatment for people living with HIV globally.

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