by Bruce Wharton | The Herald
MAY 27 marked the 10th Anniversary of the establishment of the United States President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (PEPFAR) in 2003. As we reflect on the investments made in the global response to HIV/AIDS through PEPFAR, we are tremendously proud of the milestones achieved. Through PEPFAR, we have saved lives and continue to do so.
This is especially true in Sub-Saharan Africa, where both the number of new infections and AIDS-related deaths are down by almost one-third over the last decade. Zimbabwe has reason to celebrate as it has recorded a decline in HIV prevalence from 25 percent in 2000 to 14 percent in 2012.
Though initially established as an emergency fund, PEPFAR has transitioned from an emergency response to supporting country ownership in national responses to HIV and AIDS.
We believe ending AIDS is a shared responsibility and attribute the successes Zimbabwe is recording to the strong partnership that exists between the US and Zimbabwe.
Since 2003, PEPFAR has committed to supporting smart investments where resources are effectively and efficiently utilised. To date, the US government, through PEPFAR, has committed US$44 billion toward the global response to AIDS.
The US is the largest donor (US$7,1 billion as of 2012) to the Global Fund to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria which was recently renewed in Zimbabwe with funding levels of US$311 million over the next three years. One-third of every Global Fund dollar comes from the US government. As we commemorate ten years of PEPFAR’s existence, we are delighted that these investments are saving and improving lives in Zimbabwe. And there is more to celebrate.
On June 18, US Secretary of State John Kerry made a very important announcement that was unimaginable ten years ago.
He stated, “this month (June), PEPFAR will have saved one million babies from becoming infected with HIV. For more than a decade, we have known that anti-retroviral drugs prevent transmission of HIV from mother-to-child. Over the years, we’ve grown smarter and more effective at initiating earlier treatment for pregnant women, thus significantly reducing the likelihood that she will pass HIV to the child”.
In Zimbabwe, the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare (MoHCW) is implementing the Families and Communities for the Elimination of Paediatric HIV (FACE-Paediatric HIV) programme with US$60 million in PEPFAR support over five years, 2012-2017. This initiative is designed to strengthen national programs addressing Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission (PMTCT) of HIV.
FACE-Paediatric seeks to reduce the rate of mother-to-child HIV transmission from 14 percent to less than 5 percent by 2015, and to provide 90 percent of HIV positive pregnant women in Zimbabwe with life-long anti-retroviral therapy (ART). PEPFAR has also supported the expansion of ART initiating sites from five in 2012 to 1500 nationwide to date.
Globally, our joint responses to HIV/AIDS are working and, most importantly, they are driven by advances in the science behind prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) and antiretroviral treatment (ART). Before the advent of PEPFAR, AIDS was truly a death sentence – it created millions of orphans, stalled economic development, and contributed to countries’ poverty.
Today, with PEPFAR support, “. . . a disease that seemed unstoppable is in retreat”, as acknowledged by the US Secretary of State John Kerry. Now, across the globe, fewer people and babies are becoming infected with HIV, and millions are receiving treatment. In fact, worldwide, new HIV infections have declined nearly 20 percent over the past decade.
As we reflect on the profound impact PEPFAR has made in the lives of millions of people globally, it is important to also think critically about where we are headed.
We now know what we must do to achieve an AIDS-free generation, but a lot more needs to be done.
Through PEPFAR, the US is firmly committed to help countries move forward. Six critical steps and strategies are outlined in the PEPFAR blueprint for creating an AIDS-free Generation launched on World AIDS Day 2012.
The blueprint is our promise — and our challenge — to the world. It reflects lessons learned from 10 years of PEPFAR and several more decades of experience with AIDS-related programmes and research. It is our on-going commitment to support countries in building sustainable health care systems that can deliver for the long term.
Most of all, it sends an unequivocal message that the US commitment to the global AIDS response will remain strong, comprehensive, and driven by science.
PEPFAR has pledged US$95 million towards the response to HIV/AIDS in Zimbabwe for 2013. PEPFAR’s focused investments have increased access to life saving ARTs.
Additionally, PEPFAR has enabled access to health care where little or none existed, thereby saving lives of people stricken with other deadly diseases such as tuberculosis and malaria for the past ten years.
We look forward to continued political commitment and partnership with Zimbabwe to keep the momentum going to realise an AIDS-free generation.
Bruce Wharton is US Ambassador to Zimbabwe