US Unveils Plan to Fight AIDS Worldwide

WASHINGTON ~ The United States unveiled a five-year strategy this week for fighting AIDS worldwide, shifting the focus from emergency response to sustainable programs in countries worldwide.

Marking World AIDS day on Tuesday, the administration of President Barack Obama outlined the next phase of the widely hailed President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which was launched in 2003 under then president George W. Bush.

“We’re going to begin transitioning from an emergency response to a sustainable one through greater engagement with and capacity-building of governments,” said Ambassador Eric Goosby, the US global AIDS coordinator.

Goosby told reporters that the administration hopes, for example, to encourage a country’s health, education and finance ministries to take over management of the program and eventually increase funding of it.

“The country needs to manage these programs. The population that these programs are serving are in and of the country,” Goosby said.

He also said that the administration will next focus on prevention.

“We’re going to scale up highly effective prevention interventions like male circumcision, prevention of mother-to-child transmission,” Goosby said. “We’re going to work with countries to determine not just how many people are infected in their communities in their countries, but where the new infections are occurring,” he added.

“With treatment, we will continue a strategic scale-up of services to more than four million people,” he said.

The program aims to serve the sickest pregnant women, pregnant women in general who are HIV-positive, as well as those infected both with the HIV virus and tuberculosis.

Under PEPFAR, the US government has pledged about US$25 billion to fight HIV/AIDS worldwide, including contributions it has made to the Global Fund, which was set up in 2002 to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.

Goosby highlighted the continuing success of the program in more than 30 countries.

“In 2009 alone, PEPFAR has supported life-saving antiretroviral therapy for more than 2.4 million people, essential care to nearly 11 million people, and counselling and testing for nearly 29 million people,” Goosby said.

PEPFAR has prevented the “transmission from mother to child for 100,000 babies born to HIV-positive mothers in the past year alone, building upon the nearly 240,000 babies born HIV-free over the past five years,” he added.

He said the scale of the problem remains daunting.

“There are an estimated 33 million people living with HIV, 2.7 million new infections occurring annually, approximately two million deaths annually, and for every two people we put on treatment, five more become infected,” he said.

During Bush’s two terms in office, the United States pumped nearly $19 billion into fighting AIDS in poor countries, saving many people who had been denied therapy that only rich economies could afford.

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