REPORT: U.S. Funding ‘Of Critical Importance’ To Solving AIDS Crisis

An HIV awareness sign in Zambia.

The U.N. yesterday released its most recent research on the global AIDS epidemic. While 34.2 million people are still living with HIV, the report has some positive news — the spread of the virus is slowing, and American assistance is playing a key role:

During this difficult economic period, the leading contribution of the United States of America to the global AIDS response remains strong. Through the individual compassion and collective commitment of the American people, the United States has saved millions of lives around the world over many years. In 2003, when only about 100 000 people in sub-Saharan Africa had access to treatment and the goal of extending HIV treatment to people in low- and middle-income countries seemed beyond reach, the United States launched the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). Last year, with the support of PEPFAR and other international funding sources – including through the Global Fund and domestic programmes – nearly 6.2 million people were receiving HIV treatment in Africa. In 2011, the United States continued to provide 48% of all international assistance for the global HIV response.

The PEPFAR program – a major initiative of the George W. Bush Administration – has been buoyed by a raft of favorable evidence, the U.N. being only the most recent. PEPFAR countries have seen significantly larger declines in death rates than similar non-PEPFAR states. The program “supported more than 4 million orphans and vulnerable children in 2011 alone” and has been described in the prestigious medical journal The Lancet as “the largest and most successful bilateral HIV/AIDS programme worldwide.”

During a Town Hall event last year, Mitt Romney said “I’m very reluctant to borrow lots more money” to support the PEPFAR program and suggested a preference for private charity instead. American charitable donations to HIV/AIDS issues decreased by 7 percent in 2010, to a total of $459 million. PEPFAR, by contrast, is funded to the tune of $4.23 billion.

Romney is not alone in the GOP — a number of prominent Republicans have called for an end to American foreign aid, which of course includes many more valuable programs in addition to funding for the global fight against HIV/AIDS.