March 12th, 2013 at 4:32 pm
The March 1st sequester came with vague talk of a lagging economy and political gridlock. Such abstract terms obscure the human costs of sequestration. Cuts to already underfunded discretionary programs will disproportionately affect marginalized communities such as people living with HIV/AIDS. Programs that save lives and dollars must be protected. There is no better place to start than fully funding the fight against global HIV/AIDS.
Two years ago the war on HIV/AIDS seemed unwinnable. The discovery in May 2011 that early adoption of antiretrovirals reduced the rate of transmission by 96% obliterated that notion. Suddenly, treatment was prevention. Getting HIV+ people on drugs prevented the spread of the virus to others. That December, President Obama announced that the United States would pursue “the beginning of the end of AIDS” by putting an additional 2 million people on treatment by 2014.
Only in politics can such elation turn so quickly into disappointment. Mere months after a call to pursue the eradication of AIDS, President Obama proposed a $546.4 million cut to HIV programs under the Global Health Initiative. This includes the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, the world’s largest investment to eradicate a single disease.
Now the sequester will impose even more draconian measures on life-saving programs. amfAR, the Foundation for AIDS Research determined that cuts to PEPFAR will preclude 165,400 people from antiretroviral therapy. 37,700 of them will die leaving behind 74,300 new orphans. Reduction in mother-to-child transmission services will ensure another 12,300 babies enter the world HIV+. Cuts to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria will lead to 4,000 deaths from malaria, 6,600 TB deaths, and an additional 61,000 people unable to receive HIV/AIDS treatment. All this in just nine months.
With the promise of an AIDS-free generation within reach, the world’s largest donor needs to increase its efforts in the fight. Two weeks ago we put a human face to the eradication effort. Doctors in Mississippi claim they cured a baby of HIV. This remarkable case, just after the Berlin Patient, an adult cured of HIV, gives us hope. To be sure, neither case offers immediate or scalable solutions. Still, the power of human faces lend hope to a disease that is all-too often stigmatized and dehumanized.
Congress must act to save lives. The FY14 budget should expand PEPFAR to $5.027 billion. The Global Fund will soon replenish its coffers. The United States must increase it annual $1.65 billion contribution. This will solicit greater commitments from foreign governments as well.
Foreign aid makes up less than 1% of the US federal budget. Slashing programs like PEPFAR and the Global Fund will not balance the budget. It will, however, kill tens of thousands of AIDS patients in the next nine months. We must protect these programs. Nothing less than an AIDS-free generation is at stake.
Austin Carroll Keeley
Recruitment and Partnerships Director