We were among the many advocates and global health leaders who called on the Biden Administration to move quickly in naming a permanent head for the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. Now that President Biden has selected Dr. John Nkengasong as his nominee, Congress must act swiftly to confirm his nomination and give U.S. global efforts to address HIV – a preventable and treatable disease that still claims nearly 700,000 lives a year around the world, four decades after the first case was discovered – the permanent leadership it needs and deserves.
The selection of Dr. Nkengasong is a bold and inspiring choice at this critical moment in global health. As a leading virologist with over 30 years’ experience in public health, founding director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention and former deputy principal director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Center for Global Health, Dr. Nkengasong has used his public health expertise to champion effective and accessible approaches to strengthening global health equity. As special envoy to the director general of the World Health Organization for pandemic preparedness and response, he has seen firsthand what COVID-19 has done to vital health systems and how the world must better prepare for future pandemics.
As the first person of African origin nominated for this position, his appointment also represents a major step toward ensuring that PEPFAR incorporates the perspectives and leadership of the people who implement and benefit from its vital programs.
Dr. Nkengasong’s guidance and vision are urgently needed. COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on the fight against HIV. Progress against AIDS, as well as tuberculosis and malaria, reversed in 2020 for the first time in two decades, according to a recent analysis by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Last year, 11% fewer people were reached with HIV prevention services, HIV tests declined by 22% and only 54% of children living with HIV received the lifesaving treatment they need. And progress will continue to be threatened until steady, permanent leadership is in place to guide the United States’ leading role in the fight against global HIV.
One of the greatest weapons for reversing these losses is the remarkably successful PEPFAR program. Since it was created by President George W. Bush in 2003, PEPFAR has ensured access to HIV treatment for more than 18 million people, provided critical care for more than 6.7 million orphans and their caregivers, and supported efforts to reduce vulnerability to HIV infection for millions of girls and young women. The program has maintained strong bipartisan support since its founding.
PEPFAR support has significantly expanded TB case finding and infection control, and PEPFAR has worked in close collaboration with the U.S. President’s Malaria Initiative to save millions of lives and foster education and economic development in malaria-impacted communities. Importantly, PEPFAR leveraged its platform to make significant contributions in country efforts to address COVID-19 and, along with the Global Fund, continues to fight multiple pandemics at the same time. These investments from both PEPFAR and the Global Fund in building stronger health systems help ensure the world is better able to address diseases of today and future threats.
With consistent bipartisan support and a dynamic, data-driven approach, PEPFAR has transformed foreign aid programs, strengthened global health security and saved more than 20 million lives. Of all government programs, and at all times in history, at this critical moment PEPFAR requires strong leadership by a confirmed appointee.
With this exceptional nomination in place, Congress must act now to confirm Dr. Nkengasong. As the global health community grapples with the devastating impact of COVID-19, steady leadership from PEPFAR is more crucial than ever. With Dr. Nkengasong at the helm, we can accelerate progress in the fight against HIV and other current health crises, while also laying the foundation for effective global pandemic responsiveness that can keep the U.S., and the world, safer for generations to come.
We call on the U.S. Senate to protect and advance America’s investment in the global HIV response by confirming Dr. Nkengasong to head PEPFAR by this year’s World AIDS Day on Dec. 1.