U.S. President Barack Obama’s trip to Africa has produced several pledges to invest in the continent’s booming economic growth, but he seems to be forgetting about the other reality on the ground — HIV/AIDS.
The trip — carefully programmed by Washington to clear out any lingering doubt about Obama’s priorities for Africa — is a disappointment for advocates who fear the U.S. president is slipping on his commitment: Budget cuts of up to $200 million to the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief threaten to undo years of progress in the fight against AIDS.
“This is the first time a president has proposed cutting the AIDS budget or PEPFAR. That would be evidence of going backwards,” Tom Myers, general counsel and public affairs chief at U.S.-based nonprofit AIDS Healthcare Foundation, told Devex. “Clearly, it’s at odds with their rhetoric about creating an AIDS-free generation.”
Under the PEPFAR mandate, Obama could have requested $48 billion over the last five years, but he only asked for about $33 billion, Myers pointed out, and compared this trend to the former Republican administration: “President Bush, by contrast, didn’t have much money to work with but he requested and spent all of it.”
To his defense, Obama said budget constraints and a Republican-controlled House are working against scaling up PEPFAR.
PEPFAR is working
Global evidence, according to Myers, suggests that countries that have augmented treatment like Guyana and Namibia are on track to eliminate new HIV infections by 2020.
“During Obama’s tenure, the amount of money as a percentage of the program being spent on treatment has steadily gone down,” he said. “Since it’s clear that treatment needs to go up, that would be going in the wrong direction.”
Myers noted that by putting less money into PEPFAR, United States is failing on Africa. About 7 of every 10 people living with HIV are in sub-Saharan Africa, according to World Health Organization statistics.
“While there is a claim that there’s a proposed increased in contribution to the Global Fund — and some of the money goes to combat HIV — the fact of the matter is, as a result of bilateral cuts, there will be real-world impacts,” he concluded.
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