AHF says given his actions versus his rhetoric, Obama’s goal of ‘ AIDS-free generation’ unlikely
WASHINGTON (February 12, 2013)-As the U.S. observes the tenth anniversary of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) the landmark global AIDS program which President George W. Bush first proposed in his 2003 State of the Union address, advocates from AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) urged President Obama to reconsider recent funding cuts he made to the lifesaving AIDS program which has saved millions of lives worldwide. AHF advocates also note that given his actions versus his rhetoric, President Obama’s highly touted goal of an ‘AIDS-free generation’—which received only a glancing mention in his State of the Union address tonight—is unlikely to be achieved, as the funding cuts he’s instituted take devastating—and deadly—effect globally.
“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.
“Despite President Obama’s cuts to global AIDS funding, his PEPFAR PR team recently issued suggested Tweets and Facebook posts for the public to deploy and share touting the program’s successes—upbeat messages that obscure the fact that the President’s PEPFAR cuts also prompted the closure of McCord Hospital and its respected AIDS clinic in South Africa as well as a planned 79% reduction in PEPFAR funding to hard-hit Ethiopia,” said Tom Myers, Chief of Public Affairs and General Counsel for AIDS Healthcare Foundation. “As a Senator, Mr. Obama voted for $50 billion in AIDS funding. As President, it’s a different story. What is needed now is full funding for this fight, yet we are still billions short. We believe that actions speak louder than words—or Tweets and Facebook posts.”
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 Myers. “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.
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.