Leaders of research and programmatic responses to HIV globally gathered on Capitol Hill Thursday to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief launch and the flagship program’s achievements, but also to cite urgent needs to strengthen and accelerate the program’s efforts toward ending the pandemic. The successes of PEPFAR alone, they noted, have included making life-saving antiretroviral treatment accessible to more than 14 million of the at least 22 million receiving the medicine that prevents illness and transmission of HIV. But, they noted, an estimated 37 million people were living with the virus that leads to AIDS in 2017, and a growing population of youth at risk for infection will make immediate and expanded efforts critical.
The program initiated by a bipartisan congress, and launched by President George W. Bush in 2003, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci said, had become “the most important public health program in history.”
Dr. Wafaa El-Sadr, director of ICAP at Columbia University, which leads programs providing HIV testing, treatment and care, as well as health system strengthening around the world, and serves as a principal investigator with the National Institutes of Health HIV Prevention Trials Network, described response gaps that persist, particularly in health service access among populations most at risk of infection, including sex workers, men who have sex with men as well as transgender women and young people. Dr. El-Sadr – a member of IDSA and HIVMA – said PEPFAR should focus on delivering services in innovative ways, including reaching people at risk through their communities and civil society groups rather than through traditional health care systems.
U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator Ambassador Deborah Birx also spoke of persisting needs, citing “gaps in programming that we are selectively addressing within our resource constraints.”
The additional $50 million proposed by the Senate for fiscal year 2019, Birx said, would enable the PEPFAR program to continue expanding its initiative to prevent infections in young girls, while supporting rapid scale up new scientific breakthroughs, and continued work to suppress the virus to levels that are untransmissible to growing numbers of people as well as continue making efforts to achieve higher levels of viral suppression in individuals on treatment.
The briefing was presented by U. S. Senator Johnny Isakson, and organizations that include the Infectious Diseases Society of America, Health Global Access Project (Health GAP), amfAR The Foundation for AIDS Research, Children’s AIDS Fund, Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, and Friends for the Global Fight Against AIDS, Tuberculosis & Malaria.