Risk Delayed Rollout of Urgent New HIV Treatment Guidelines
(Washington, DC) On Tuesday, 23 July, the Senate’s State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee voted to cut funding for the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). The widely applauded program is the U.S. bilateral initiative to fight HIV in poor countries that have been hard-hit by the epidemic. The Senate vote is in line with President Obama’s proposed cuts to PEPFAR, and comes on the heels of a similar subcommittee vote last Friday in the House. The full House Appropriations Committee is scheduled to vote on the measure today (Wed 24 July). The funding cuts jeopardize the U.S. Government’s ability to achieve its policy goal to achieve an “AIDS-Free Generation”—a commitment made on World AIDS Day December 1, 2012 and most recently restated in President Obama’s State of the Union Address.
The World Health Organization released long-awaited new HIV treatment guidelines last month that initiate treatment significantly earlier and qualify many more people living with HIV. The new guidelines are the result of scientific findings demonstrating the benefits of earlier initiation to individual patients as well as the powerful impact of HIV treatment to dramatically drop rates of new infections. WHO intends for the new treatment policies to be adopted worldwide, but strong donor support is needed to ensure implementation.
“Cuts in global AIDS support are particularly disastrous less than a month after the launch of new treatment guidelines that could finally bring this epidemic to a close,” said Health GAP’s Paul Davis. “Spending now will save billions in the long run by halting new infections, and this budget is out of sync with science.”
PEPFAR is the largest provider of lifesaving AIDS medication and services in the world, and the funding level proposed by Congress is nearing a record low. The Senate and House Subcommittee votes continue last year's pre-sequester funding level of $1.65 billion for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria--an important step for this life-saving international program. However, both voted just over $4 billion for the bilateral PEPFAR program-- $50-$70 million less than Congress passed in the Continuing Resolution for FY2013 last year, pre-sequestration.
“We are grateful that the House and Senate Committees included level funding for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria,” said Amirah Sequeira from the Student Global AIDS Campaign. “But reaching the President's promise of an AIDS-Free Generation will require both programs to be fully operational. We can't raid one to fund the other,” she said.
Budget cuts may already be having an impact. "Here in Kenya, more than 600,000 people living with HIV rely on PEPFAR funding for AIDS treatment, but according to a mid-year performance review, PEPFAR has fallen far behind its own targets in the country,” said Maureen Milanga, from the AIDS Law Project in Nairobi. “We had hoped that the U.S. Senate would have voted for the $500 million in additional new funds needed for PEPFAR to pick up the pace and meet its own program goals for an AIDS-Free generation. Don’t leave people with HIV behind. Fully fund your promises,” she continued.
Funding levels for global AIDS could shrink by an additional 7% if sequestration cuts take effect again this session. Health GAP calls on appropriators, House and Senate leadership and the Obama Administration to fully fund PEPFAR at $4.58 billion and the Global Fund at $1.65 billion for FY 2014.