Global AIDS Bill Will Save 5 Million Lives

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Senate Agreement Restores Minimum AIDS HIV Treatment Funding Requirement, the Key to PEPFAR’s Success. Delegations of AHF Doctors and AIDS Patients From Africa Met With Officials in Over 70 Senate Offices During Past Three Months to Push Legislators to Keep Focus on Lifesaving Treatment.

AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) (www.aidshealth.org), which provides AIDS care and treatment services to more than 79,000 individuals in 20 countries worldwide, applauded the U.S. Senate for passing legislation (vote: 80/16) re-authorizing PEPFAR (the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief), the successful US global AIDS program. AHF lauded the Senate for prioritizing lifesaving treatment through its restoration of a provision in the current law that more than half of the funding be spent on treatment. The agreement will also make it possible for as many as five million people worldwide to access antiretroviral treatment over the next five years via PEPFAR-backed programs. Currently, less than two million people are receiving treatment through PEPFAR.

“It is no exaggeration to say that millions of additional lives of people living with HIV/AIDS around the world will now be saved thanks to the actions of Congress today and we thank those courageous legislators and staffers who supported AHF’s efforts and worked so hard to make this happen,” said Michael Weinstein, President, AIDS Healthcare Foundation. ”AHF worked tirelessly over the past several months to try and persuade legislators to restore the treatment focus in PEPFAR. We brought two delegations of AHF doctors and AIDS patients from Africa to Washington as part of an intense advocacy effort on the importance of treatment as the primary focus of PEPFAR. Together, we had more than 70 meetings in Senate offices with staffers and Senators, and we were able to persuade them of the critical importance of retaining the priority on treatment in the original PEPFAR legislation - something that has been key to the success of President Bush’s landmark legislation over the past five years. This is a monumental day for those living with HIV/AIDS around the world—it will literally bring new life to millions - and a landmark day for the legislators involved as well as for US foreign policy efforts.”

“We are grateful to those legislators who worked diligently to maintain the priority on treatment in PEPFAR. AHF considers this a great achievement, because it confirms that treatment is—and should be—the prime focus of PEPFAR, and the key to controlling the epidemic,” said Tom Myers, AHF’s Chief of Public Affairs. “Putting people on treatment has a multiplier effect. One person on treatment is not just one life saved, it is also one partner who is not infected. For each woman receiving treatment, that can also mean a number of children born without HIV/AIDS, and a number of children who are not made orphans.”

In May, AHF brought two delegations of AIDS medical care providers and AIDS treatment clients from Uganda, South Africa and Rwanda to Washington, DC for a series of meetings on Capitol Hill with Senate leaders to tell their personal stories of living with, or treating those with HIV/AIDS, to Congress as they considered the bill to reauthorize PEPFAR. The groups, all of whom were treatment clients or medical providers of AHF, pressed Congress to reinstate the requirement that a minimum percentage of PEPFAR funding be required to be spent on lifesaving treatment, and to increase the overall goal of those on treatment through the program.

The second African AIDS delegation also joined a number of US Senators including Senator Tom Coburn, M.D., (R-OK) and Richard Burr (R-NC) in a press conference on May 13th to call for the preservation of a focus on AIDS treatment in the PEPFAR bill.

A few Republican Senators were opposed to the $50 billion funding level; however, several of these same Senators spoke to the impact that AIDS Healthcare Foundation’s African delegations had on their impressions of the bill and the Senate compromise that was ultimately reached on maintaining a priority on treatment, which both Senator Sessions and Senator Bunning supported.

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While speaking on the Senate floor about the bill this afternoon, Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) said, “I met with a group from Africa who urged us to oppose the legislation as originally written because it altered the requirement that medical treatment be a significant component in the bill and some other problems they had with it. They said, in fact, they said -- we should oppose the bill even though they would, in many ways, benefit. We had a grandmother there whose daughter died with AIDS and she had her granddaughter there, her granddaughter was infected with H.I.V. so it was an emotional moment”.

Senator Jim Bunning (R-KY) also spoke earlier about the impact AHF’s African delegation had on his support for maintaining a treatment focus in PEPFAR. In his floor remarks, Bunning noted, "Two months ago, I had the opportunity to meet with several doctors and patients from Uganda. Through their firsthand account, I could see how PEPFAR dollars, when used wisely, can combat the spread of AIDS and be used to provide lifesaving treatment.

One of the women I met with told me how PEPFAR saved her life. Through the program, she was able to treat this deadly disease in a way that enabled her to live a normal life. She now has a job and provides for her four children. In speaking with her, I was not only struck by her conviction for life but her insistence that I continue to work to strengthen the reauthorization of PEPFAR. Like me, she knew the changes made to the program could severely weaken its effectiveness and jeopardize its future success.

This woman is a living example of how PEPFAR can be successful if implemented as the program originally intended. Through her conviction, I, along with several of my colleagues on this side of the aisle, worked to fix this bill. We were able to make some improvements, such as restoring a treatment mandate that is still lower than the current program levels--but many problems still exist.”

As part of its advocacy around PEPFAR, AHF also mounted its AIDS portrait exhibit titled, “AfricAlive: Portraits of Success,” in the Rotunda of the Russell Senate Office Building during the week of May 12-16. The traveling exhibit is a series of photographic portraits of Africans with HIV/AIDS who are alive thanks to their access to antiretroviral treatment. The venue afforded many Senators and staffers the chance to see the moving, life-sized portraits of Africans who are alive today thanks to antiretroviral treatment up close as they traveled back and forth between their Senate offices and the Capitol Building.

One of the AfricAlive portrait subjects, Fundiswa Doncabe, an AIDS treatment client from AHF’s Ithembalabantu (Zulu for “people’s hope”) clinic in Durban,

South Africa, was part of the second African delegation visiting Congress. In mid-May, she traveled to Washington with her 4 year-old son, Thubelihle Shabalala, to tell her personal story of living successfully with AIDS thanks to her access to lifesaving antiretroviral treatment (ART).

PEPFAR was the result of President Bush's groundbreaking 2003 State of the Union pledge to bring two million HIV positive Africans and others into treatment and prevent seven million new HIV infections via a five-year, $15 billion US-funded program. It currently operates in 15 focus countries and claims to support antiretroviral treatment for 1.4 million people worldwide. PEPFAR has been one of the most successful global humanitarian programs in recent memory, providing medical care to millions of people with HIV/AIDS, it has given hope to the 33 million people with HIV/AIDS in the world.

AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) is the nation’s largest non-profit HIV/AIDS healthcare provider. AHF currently provides medical care and/or services to more than 79,000 individuals in 20 countries worldwide in the US, Africa, Latin America/Caribbean and Asia. Additional information is available at www.aidshealth.org

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