Thursday, May 31, 2007

Bush advocates $30B for PEPFAR

Welcome to this installment of The AIDS Pandemic, a podcast hosted by Dr. David Wessner from Davidson College. I’m Dave Wessner.

Yesterday, President Bush implored Congress to extend PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, for an additional 5 years and allocate an additional $30 billion to the program. Initially proposed in the President’s 2003 State of the Union address, PEPFAR targets HIV/AIDS treatment in 15 countries with high HIV/AIDS burdens.

As President Bush noted, the $15 billion allocated to PEPFAR thus far has resulted in antiretroviral drugs for 1.1 million people in these resource limited countries and the increased funding could result in treatment for as many as 2.5 million people. This drug therapy, obviously, will extend and improve the lives of these lucky individuals. Arguably, then, PEPFAR is changing the HIV/AIDS landscape.

The plan cannot, however, be considered an unqualified success. Approximately 30 million people in sub-Saharan Africa alone are HIV positive. Providing treatment to 2.5 million of them is not enough. Until all people, in all countries, have access to the life-saving antiretroviral drugs, we can not be satisfied with any existing plan.

More importantly, we need to examine the restrictions associated with PEPFAR funds. One third of allocated funds must be spent on abstinence programs, despite the clear evidence that condoms are the most effective means of preventing the sexual spread of HIV. No funds can be spent on clean needle exchange programs, despite the clear evidence that needle exchange programs prevent the transmission of HIV and do not lead to increased injection drug use. The $15 billion currently allocated to PEPFAR has made a difference. And the additional $30 billion proposed by President Bush will make an even greater impact on the pandemic. President Bush should be commended for this initiative and his leadership. But President Bush also should be admonished for ignoring the scientific evidence. When it comes to the AIDS pandemic, decisions need to be based on evidence, not one person’s faith-based morality.

Until next time, I’m Dave Wessner

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