Forty years ago, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported on the first five cases of what later became known as AIDS. Since then, more than 36 million people have lost their lives to AIDS-related illness globally.
Ahead of the 2021 International AIDS Society Conference on HIV Science next week, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) honors the memory of these courageous men, women, and children and renews our commitment to the nearly 38 million people who are bravely living with HIV worldwide.
Galvanized by President Biden’s strong commitment to ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic once and for all, the United States is as determined as ever to significantly accelerate progress toward achieving sustained HIV epidemic control.
We are proud of the progress we have made together with our many partners around the world. With nearly two decades of remarkable bipartisan support across presidential administrations and the unwavering support of the U.S. Congress, the United States has invested more than $85 billion in the global AIDS response through PEPFAR and as the leading donor to the Global Fund. This is the largest commitment ever by one country to address a single disease, leading to over 20 million lives saved and millions of HIV infections prevented.
Through our efforts to address AIDS, PEPFAR supports nearly 300,000 health care workers (including community health workers), over 3,000 laboratories, 70,000 health care sites, disease surveillance, and strong local health systems in more than 50 countries. These investments have led to increased global capacity for pandemic preparedness and response, which has already helped keep Ebola, H1N1, and other deadly diseases from raging out of control. The PEPFAR-supported platform also remains vital in the ongoing fight against COVID-19 and stands ready to be leveraged, and built upon, to confront future health threats.
As COVID-19 challenges many countries that are also heavily burdened by HIV, PEPFAR continues to bring the best of the U.S. government, implementing partners, governments, and communities to adapt its programming to ensure continuity of person-centered service delivery for populations most in need. As of the end of March 2021, PEPFAR supported nearly 18.2 million people with antiretroviral therapy – one million more than as of September 2020, despite the sizable challenges posed by COVID-19.
To build on these tremendous gains, we must all recommit to ensuring equitable access for all to quality HIV prevention and treatment services and to ending the inequities that still stand in our way, many of which have only been exacerbated by COVID-19. As Secretary Blinken has made clear: we cannot achieve our goal to end AIDS if we deny people’s sexual and reproductive rights, or foster discrimination against people who are the most vulnerable to HIV. We must end the laws, policies, and practices that make it harder for the populations most impacted by the epidemic – including the LGBTQI+ community, people who use drugs, sex workers, racial and ethnic minorities, and women and girls – to receive the HIV services and support they need.
We are at a pivotal moment in the AIDS response. Even after decades of progress, our work is not yet finished and has been even more challenged by COVID-19. If we falter, millions more people will be infected with HIV and millions more people now living with HIV will die of AIDS. But if, as a global community, we confront these challenges with conviction and compassion – and ensure equitable access to health services – we can end the HIV epidemic everywhere and pave a path to a better, safer future for all.
About the Author: Dr. Angeli Achrekar serves as Acting U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator and Special Representative for Global Health Diplomacy at the U.S. Department of State.