WASHINGTON — The House passed by voice vote Tuesday a bipartisan extension of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the lifesaving program launched by President George W. Bush.
The five-year extension, co-sponsored by Reps. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), now moves to the Senate. Current funding for the program is about $6 billion per year.
“PEPFAR saves lives, by supporting millions around the world with lifesaving treatment,” Lee said. “We must protect and grow this program to achieve an AIDS-free generation.”
PEPFAR has saved more than 16 million lives so far, including 14 million men, women, and children on lifesaving drugs and 2.2 million babies born HIV-free to HIV-positive mothers.
The program has also helped 6.4 million orphans and caregivers, and provided 15.2 million men and boys with circumcision to lower the risk of HIV transmission. Additionally, a quarter of a million medical personnel have been trained to improve care for HIV and other outbreaks.
When Bush announced the program in his 2003 State of the Union address, nearly 30 million people in Africa had the AIDS virus, including 3 million children under the age of 15. Today, 13 countries are projected to control their AIDS epidemics by 2020.
Smith said on the House floor Tuesday that “the need for this legislation is absolutely compelling, because there is much more to be done,” as every week 32,000 people are infected with HIV globally, including 6,900 young women and 3,000 children, and 19,000 people die of AIDS-related illnesses.
“I introduced HR 6651 joined by a group of bipartisan original cosponsors to ensure the continuation of this extraordinarily effective lifesaving initiative—and the time to act is now,” Smith said. “This PEPFAR extension includes an amendment to extend programs aimed at supporting Orphans and Vulnerable Children—an initiave that assists over six million individuals— with support from multiple organizations, including Catholic Relief Services and World Vision. I would like to thank my Democratic colleague, and original cosponsor, Barbara Lee for her outstanding commitment to this issue.”
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.), an original co-sponsor, noted that “by strategically targeting resources and holding partners accountable, PEPFAR has helped reduce new infections among the most vulnerable groups – particularly young women and adolescent girls – by as much as 40 percent.”
“Just last month, I returned to southern Africa and witnessed the impact of PEPFAR for myself. Parents are surviving, the workforce is recovering and health systems are becoming stronger. This is tremendous progress of which we all should be extremely proud,” Royce said. “But now is not the time for retreat. There remains more to be done.”
The extension includes more oversight, including audits and reporting to Congress.
“The United States cannot – and should not – fight this fight alone,” Royce added. “That’s why this act ensures that our programs are complemented by an effective, efficient and accountable Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis.”