The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) stands unique in its nature and impact, a program unlike any seen before. An alliance of lawmakers from both sides of the aisle and activists from diverse backgrounds helped craft its scale, scope, and promise to address the global AIDS crisis in a manner never attempted. Twenty years later, we know it as one of the most successful global health programs, with over 25 million lives saved. Responding to the severity of the AIDS crisis, PEPFAR took bold, decisive action that changed the trajectory of the pandemic in Sub-Saharan Africa and around the world.
A recent BPC poll conducted by Morning Consult showed that 82% of voters believe it is important for the United States to take the lead on global health efforts, with 51% saying it is very important. These results add to the perplexity: Despite the staggering success of PEPFAR in saving lives and enhancing the U.S. global standing, reauthorization of this historically bipartisan program has stalled in Congress this year.
PEPFAR stands as a testament to global cooperation and international compassion. Prior to PEPFAR, three million lives were lost each year to HIV/AIDs across the globe. The commitment from the United States to support this cause and increase partnerships with nations in need is one of the reasons so much progress was made. Now, as we confront the prospect of regressing, we risk losing the momentum gained and, more importantly, endangering the lives of millions.
What is PEPFAR?
On January 28, 2003, George W. Bush announced the creation of PEPFAR during his State of the Union address. In response, Congress swiftly enacted the program, securing near-unanimous support to allocate $15 billion in emergency funding for antiretroviral treatment, care for orphans, and the development of effective prevention interventions. As mentioned, PEPFAR has been wildly successful in decreasing HIV/AIDS infections and deaths in over 25 countries across the world. As a result of PEPFAR, 25 million people are alive today.
PEPFAR has always enjoyed strong bipartisan support. Leaders from both sides worked together to pass the original legislation and have done so on every reauthorization since. The poll results support the continuation of this trend, with 52% of voters wanting to see Democrats and Republicans work together to continue the U.S.’s contributions to the global efforts against AIDs. “The program saves lives around the world, while exemplifying the constructive impact of investments in global health,” said former Senate Majority Leader and BPC Senior Fellow Dr. Bill Frist. “PEPFAR, from day one, has been widely bipartisan in support and scope.” Congress has the opportunity to act on this legislation and reauthorize this important program. Without bipartisan action from Congress, PEPFAR will not receive sufficient authorization to continue its global life-saving work.
Global Health Leaders
As previously noted, an overwhelming 82% of voters believe it is important for the United States to take the lead on global health efforts. When given more information on the impacts of the PEPFAR program, a majority of voters (55%) believe that PEPFAR has contributed to improving global goodwill toward the United States. An analysis by BPC earlier this year supports this finding and shows that with additional PEPFAR funding, overall approval of the U.S. leadership rises. This underscores the interconnectedness of health initiatives and diplomatic relations, suggesting that robust engagement in global health not only saves lives but also bolsters the country’s international standing.
In addition to improving individuals’ health, PEPFAR has a range of other benefits for communities. By improving health, more individuals are eligible for employment, thus bolstering the workforce and economy for those receiving PEPFAR services. Ninety percent of individuals who receive antiretroviral therapy to treat HIV can return to work. Unfortunately, the fight against HIV/AIDs continues. Even as HIV cases have decreased under PEPFAR, there are still 1.3 million people infected with HIV every year. When asked about the importance of PEPFAR, former Senate Majority Leader and BPC Co-Founder Tom Daschle said, “Despite the astounding progress made in the global fight against HIV and AIDS, our work is far from over. Where disease still exists, so does the opportunity to improve lives and livelihoods. America must continue to fulfill our PEPFAR commitments.” The poll supports this with two-thirds of voters saying the US should continue its commitment to the global AIDS response.
The current congressional deliberations on year-end spending and appropriations demand the attention and engagement of citizens who are concerned about global health. With millions of lives hanging in the balance, it is imperative for citizens to advocate for proper funding and support for PEPFAR. As noted through the poll results, there is a compelling argument for reauthorization, as the program not only saves lives but also enhances the global standing of the United States. BPC calls for a clean, five-year reauthorization of PEPFAR to ensure that this lifesaving program continues without interruption. PEPFAR is a tribute to and reminder of the best of who we are as a country, and a testament to our capacity for compassionate and courageous governance. However, without prompt bipartisan reauthorization, PEPFAR is at risk of not receiving the crucial authorization required for its continuation, putting millions of lives at risk, and reversing the progress made against the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
The poll was conducted between October 11-14, 2023, among a sample of 1,982 registered voters. The interviews were conducted online and the data were weighted to approximate a target sample of registered voters based on gender by age, educational attainment, race, marital status, home ownership, race by educational attainment, 2020 presidential vote, and region. Results from the full survey have a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.
To see the full survey results, click here.
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