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PEPFAR Marks 10 Years, 1 Million Healthy Babies
June 19, 2013

A mother-and-child portrait decorated the stage when John Kerry attended a PEPFAR anniversary event.

By Charlene Porter
IIP Staff Writer
June 18, 2013

One million babies are alive today because their HIV-infected mothers received medication to prevent them from transmitting the virus to their infants. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry noted that landmark June 18 in a State Department ceremony recognizing the 10th anniversary of the President’s Emergency Program for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which launched large-scale U.S. assistance for treatment and care of people with HIV/AIDS.

With distribution of assistance exceeding $37 billion, PEPFAR is the largest and most successful foreign assistance program ever adopted, Kerry said.

“One million babies — like Tatu’s daughter Faith — can grow up happy and healthy, go to school, realize their dreams, break out of this cycle, maybe even have sons and daughters of their own free from the burden and the fear of HIV,” Kerry said.

Tatu Msangi, a nursing officer at a medical center in Tanzania who attended the anniversary ceremony, had discovered in 2004 she was both pregnant and HIV-positive. Though shocked and fearful, Msangi received the drugs that prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV and gave birth to a healthy daughter she named Faith.

“My daughter Faith is all the proof you need that an AIDS-free generation is possible,” Msangi told the audience, many of whom have vivid memories and their own stories to tell about the AIDS timeline and implementation of PEPFAR.

When the U.S. Congress approved PEPFAR funding, more than 30 million people worldwide were infected and, in the developing world, only a small fraction were receiving treatment. Some experts believed the law was too late, Kerry said.

“Today a disease that seemed unstoppable is in retreat,” Kerry said. He cited supporting statistics: New HIV infections have declined by 20 percent, the number of deaths is down one-third in Africa, and 8 million people are receiving drugs that can keep the virus in check.

Kerry said 13 nations have now reached the “tipping point,” where the number of people receiving treatment exceeds the number of newly infected people. That means the virus is under control, and in decline. That means that progressing to the birth of a generation without AIDS is possible, he said.

With U.S. assistance under the PEPFAR program, Namibian Minister of Health Richard Nehabi Kamwi said, his country has passed the tipping point. With AIDS in decline, he said, Namibia is also making enormous progress overcoming the diseases that are so often associated with HIV infection.

“We are on the verge of malaria elimination, working stringently towards TB elimination,” Kamwi said at the State Department ceremony. “And with the strength of our global partnership, Namibia may be the first country on the African continent to eliminate HIV transmission.”

Providing funding for large deliveries of AIDS drugs was only one component of PEPFAR activities. The program also worked to establish the clinics, the health care workforce, the laboratories and other facilities that could provide not just AIDS care, but a broader level of overall health care than had been available before. In six countries where assistance has been most intense, Global AIDS Ambassador Eric Goosby said, significant health care improvements have been achieved.

“We’ve seen reductions in maternal-child, and TB-related mortality, dramatic reductions,” Goosby said. “We’ve seen increased use of antenatal care and wider availability of safe blood [for transfusion].”

Both Goosby and Kerry acknowledged that there is more to do, more people who need medicine, and more places that need hospitals. But Kerry said the PEPFAR successes should provide inspiration to move forward, “to know that we can do the remarkable, we can find solutions to what seems to be unsolvable, we can overcome the insurmountable, and we can leave politics and ideology at the wayside in order to choose life.”

Kerry extended thanks to many lawmakers, activists and medical experts who contributed to the PEPFAR mission. Goosby called them “AIDS heroes” and announced that his office is launching an annual program to recognize people who have made great contributions to the effort to combat the disease and improve global health. The first individuals to receive the honor will be named on World AIDS Day December 1.