The future of HIV medicine for millions of people has been put at risk after the US Congress failed to renew the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) – its highly successful programme aimed at reducing the spread of HIV/AIDS.
Some Republicans are refusing to reauthorise it long term; unless it is barred from funding aid groups that support abortion.
Advocates say no PEPFAR money goes directly or indirectly to fund abortions, but critics say they’re concerned that the funding strengthens the groups that provide them.
Director of the Centre for Religious Liberty at Family Research Council, Arielle Del Turco says, “We want to make sure that the funds that are being used in our PEPFAR programme are not going to organisations that are performing abortions, which we believe are the taking of human life or are even promoting abortion, especially in some of these countries that have a more conservative culture.”
In Kenya, a farmer Risper Ogogo was suffering until her life was saved by PEPFAR.
Dispensing life-saving drugs courtesy of US government funding, an HIV clinic in Uganda is also one of many across Africa that has helped millions of people since former president George W Bush launched it 20 years ago.
Donald Trump managed to achieve this through executive action when he was president; something Joe Biden rescinded as soon as he came into office.
And now, conservative House Republicans are trying to make the policy law.
But not all Republican lawmakers agree, and Bush, himself an opponent of abortion, is concerned that cutting out these groups will damage anti-AIDS efforts and lead to preventable deaths.
Speaking at an event marking 20 years of PEPFAR in February this year, Bush made the following remarks: “I don’t understand why there’s any resistance to a programme like PEPFAR unless we’ve lost our compassion, and I don’t think we have. I think this country is a compassionate country that cares deeply about people who suffer.”
PEPFAR has been a US foreign policy success story – boosting America’s reputation in places where it isn’t always popular.
But if Congress doesn’t find a way to re-authorise it for the longer term – it won’t just be putting lives at risk – but also the US’s global reputation.
Calls for extensions
In South Africa, leading AIDS scientists joined the clarion call urging members of the US Congress to support PEPFAR’s continuation.
Anglican Archbishop Thabo Makgoba last month said if the US does not re-authorise this programme, its image as a compassionate and caring nation will be under threat.
He said the US, which has already spent a 100-billion dollars on this global HIV/AIDS response, improved its image in the eyes of Africa.
VIDEO | Leading AIDS scientists call for PEPFAR extension: