Yesterday, US Secretary of State John Kerry marked the 10th anniversary of the creation of PEPFAR, the US President’s Plan for Emergency AIDS Relief. President George W. Bush launched PEPFAR in 2003 with an initial $15-billion, five-year commitment to provide antiretroviral therapy (ART) to HIV-infected people in developing countries.
This month, Kerry announced, the one millionth baby will be born HIV-free to an HIV-positive mother because of PEPFAR support. US Global AIDS Coordinator Eric Goosby spoke to AFP about this achievement. AFP’s Jo Biddle writes:
The program was working to “virtually eliminate pediatric HIV by 2015 and keep their mothers alive,” he said, with the aim of reducing the number of babies born with the infection to around 30,000 annually.
This involves not just identifying the mother, but getting her on a drugs program and keeping her in treatment through the pregnancy and any later ones — not always an easy task in rural Africa.
The chances of a mother infecting her baby once stood at around 30 percent, but now, with the launch of a cocktail of three anti-retroviral drugs, that has dropped to only about two percent, Goosby said.
In his remarks about the program’s 10th anniversary, Kerry also celebrated the fact that 13 countries have reached a “tipping point” at which the number of new adult HIV infections each year is below the annual increase in adults on ART — a point only seven countries were deemed to have reached last year. “This remarkable progress is thanks to the combined and coordinated efforts of all partners involved in the fight against global AIDS,” Kerry said.
It’s harder to feel celebratory about the HIV situation here at home, as some noted on World AIDS Day last December. As we mark the 10th anniversary of PEPFAR, though, it’s worth applauding the bold global approach to tackling a disease that was once a certain death sentence.