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Washington actually got something done: fighting AIDS in Africa

President Bush to mark 20 years since PEPFAR began.
PEPFAR initiative George W. Bush
Posted at 9:11 PM, Feb 22, 2023

WASHINGTON — We tell you a lot of stories about how politics in Washington works slowly — and sometimes — not at all.

Perhaps that is why only 20% of Americans, according to Pew Research, trust the government to do the right thing always or most of the time.

Every once in a while, however, something big happens on a bipartisan basis that actually changes the world.

UNDERSTANDING PEPFAR

PEPFAR is an acronym you may not be able to define.

After all, it's not a government program or agency that is in the news often.

It stands for "President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief" and it was first proposed and enacted by former President George W. Bush in 2003.

Bush proposed the program during his 2003 State of the Union address.

"Many hospitals tell people, 'you got AIDS. We can't help you,'" Bush told lawmakers at the time as he pushed for funding.

It has now been 20 years since that ambitious policy of reducing AIDS deaths in Africa was first proposed.

Now — over $100 billion dollars and countless bipartisan votes later — the impact has been seen and is being celebrated.

25 million lives are estimated to have been saved, according to the State Department.

"I also lost many relatives and I could see children born with HIV not making it until the age of 5," Tinashe Rufurwadzo, and HIV activist in Africa and Europe, said.

Rufurwadzo was born in Zimbabwe and says the decline in HIV-related deaths from the 2000s has been remarkable.

In the early 2000s, over 2 million people were dying from HIV-related diseases. Many times that was AIDS.

In 2021: 420,000 people died.

While that's still high, Rufurwadzo says the decline has changed life in Africa.

"You cannot tell with your eyes this person is living with HIV because of the treatment," Rufurwadzo said.

This topic is in the news this week with First Lady Jill Biden in Africa and former President Bush making a rare visit to Washington to celebrate 20 years of PEPFAR.

THE FIGHT AHEAD

While the United States has no doubt done a lot to help Africa and the global AIDS fight over the last 20 years, there is a continued push to do more.

"Recently, one of the politicians was quoted as saying there is no need to treat people who identify as LGBTQ plus in health facilities," Rufurwadzo said.

Rufurwadzo tells us inequalities still exist which is why he says leaders in Washington and around the globe shouldn't give up the fight.

"We still have a ways to go," Dr. Wafaa El-Sadr, an epidemiologist who has worked in Africa for decades, said.

Dr. Wafaa El-Sadr says PEPFAR is up for reauthorization this year in Congress, a place where funding most initiatives has become more political.

El-Sadr added that with the White House recently announcing an initiative to end the HIV and AIDS epidemic globally by 2030, this is no time to start playing politics.

"I think this is the time to actually really press on so that we can get to where we want to get to," El-Sadr said.