Last week I participated in a press conference on Capitol Hill with Congressman Mike Pence, Chuck Colson Of Prison Fellowship, best-selling author and pastor Rick Warren, and a host of others who are concerned about the future of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).Why the conference? The group which assembled wants to ensure that the good work that this program began will continue. A renewal bill entitled “The US Global HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria Reauthorization Act of 2008” is scheduled to be marked up by the House Committee on Foreign Affairs next week. Many fear that partisan politics will mar the good work done in the original bill.
In this year’s State of the Union address, the president announced his intention to take the program to another level. He stated, “...America is leading the fight against disease. With your help, we are working to cut by half the number of malaria-related deaths in 15 African nations. And our Emergency Plan for AIDS relief is treating 1.4 million people. We can bring healing and hope to many more. So I ask you to maintain the principles that have changed behavior and made this program a success. And I call on you to double our initial commitment to fighting HIV/AIDS by approving an additional $30 billion over the next 5 years.”
Our press conference was simply an attempt to help the public understand that this landmark policy should be expanded from a positive, 5-year prototype just as the president suggested. The average American does not know the following history.
In his State of the Union address in 2003, President George Bush originally announced the PEPFAR program. It is the largest aid commitment ever made by any nation for an international health initiative to fight a single disease --- HIV/AIDS. At the time of the original announcement, only 50,000 people were receiving treatment for HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa. The original commitment was $15 billion over a 5 year period. The results have been phenomenal. As the president stated in his address, the program helped provide antiretroviral treatment for over 1.4 million men women and children through September 30, 2007. Over 86,000 children, age 14 and under, are receiving this life saving treatment. In addition 62% of the individuals on direct PEPFAR support are women and children.
Bishop Harry Jackson is chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD, and co-authored, Personal Faith, Public Policy [FrontLine; March 2008] with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.