FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: December 1 2014
We can’t ‘end AIDS’ if promises from President Obama and U.S. Congress are broken
(Washington D.C., Kampala, Nairobi)
On World AIDS Day, the AIDS advocacy organization Health GAP criticized the Obama administration for failing to deliver on promises to release new HIV treatment and prevention targets, and questioned whether next year’s budget would reverse cuts to the U.S.’s signature President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). A year ago, President Obama pledged to set new targets for the PEPFAR program, aligned with global goals. “We’ll hold each other accountable, and we’ll continue to work to turn the tide of this epidemic together,” said President Obama. A year later global goals have been set, but the U.S. contribution toward those goals remains unclear--and the PEPFAR program is running short of funding to carry out its mission.
Experts agree the overall goal the President has laid out in past years—ending the AIDS crisis in highly impacted countries in Africa—is ambitious but achievable. New global treatment goals were announced by Secretary John Kerry and five African heads of state at the U.N. General Assembly meeting this year: ensuring 90% of people living with HIV knowing their status, 90% of these on treatment, and 90% of those “virally suppressed.” This dramatic ramp up of testing, treatment, and accompanying prevention efforts could slash new HIV infections and halt deaths, saving money in the medium term by getting control of the epidemic. The announcement today that the PEPFAR program supported theaddition of one million new people to HIV treatment programs in the last year shows dramatic scale up is possible.
At a White House World AIDS Day event today, National Security Advisor Susan Rice noted how many communities are still not reached with HIV treatment and services, and pledged to "remain focused on this fight." However, advocates questioned how that focus is going to be possible without the hard targets for the US global AIDS programs that have always guided investment—especially when funding cuts have strained the program to the breaking point. Even as essential U.S. funding to the multilateral Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria has grown, the PEPFAR program has been slashed by over $600 million dollars in recent years—and reserves are now running dry. Meanwhile, PEPFAR has now been running for over a year without the guiding goals the President promised.
“How can we take the American commitment to an ‘AIDS-free Generation’ seriously when President Obama has not delivered on his own promises?” asked Asia Russell, Executive Director of Health GAP based in Kampala, Uganda. “In the coming year, U.S.-supported AIDS programs are facing a fiscal cliff—a real threat that new patients will die waiting in line for treatment, and that we will snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Setting new targets, making clear what the U.S. will contribute to global goals, and restoring PEPFAR’s funding must all happen urgently if the President’s words are to be more than hollow rhetoric.”
Meanwhile, Congress has flat funded PEPFAR programs for three consecutive years—leaving front line service providers and people with HIV desperate for the increased funding required to end the epidemic. Several U.S. supported programs in Uganda and other countries in the region with the potential for dramatic program acceleration, have already been told that funding to continue to expand new life saving services in 2016 may not be available, which would result in a surge in deaths and new infections.
“It is inexcusable that Congress and the President would falter at this moment—when an investment that is the equivalent to a rounding error in the U.S. budget would help save countless lives, avert millions of new infections, and generate massive cost savings,” said Health GAP’s Maureen Milanga from Nairobi. “In Kenya, we rely on the U.S. keeping its commitments to people with HIV to leverage increased investments from our own government. If President Obama delays setting the program goals he pledged, or Congress fails to restore harmful cuts to PEPFAR, hard-hit countries around the world that are stepping up will have to trim their own plans. This will allow the epidemic to grow, and for costs to spiral out of control. We urge U.S. Congress to restore at least $300 million in cuts to PEPFAR in the 2016 spending bill, and for President Obama to at least restore the remaining additional $300 million in his next budget for 2016.”