Senators Lindsey Graham and Chris Coons said they are confident that funding for the US’s global AIDS program will be extended with the aim of eliminating the disease by 2030.
The US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or Pepfar, was initiated in 2003 by then President George W. Bush. It has saved 25 million lives and allowed 5.5 million children to be born free of the HIV virus that causes AIDS, John Nkengasong, the head of Pepfar, said at a press conference in Johannesburg. Life expectancy has improved by 12 to 15 years in some African nations, he said.
“The Pepfar program has not only saved millions of lives, it’s turned a death sentence into an opportunity to have a meaningful life,” Graham said at the press conference on Thursday. “We have a goal by 2030 to knock this thing out, to get a vaccine sooner rather than later.”
Graham and Coons, along with pop star Elton John, are in the South Africa to assess the program in the country that has the largest number of people infected with the disease. John’s AIDS foundation works with Pepfar.
Sub-Saharan Africa is home to about 70% of the total number of people globally infected with HIV. Pepfar has overseen the investment of more than $100 billion in the global AIDS response to date.
John said that when he first came to South Africa, “it was pretty grim, it was awful, people were dying, children were dying in my arms.
“Without Pepfar and without President Bush we would be in a terrible mess,” he said. “My dying wish is to have this disease eliminated by 2030. We’ve got to do it and we will.”
Graham said he’ll seek additional money for the program from Middle Eastern states.
He said he doesn’t expect US funding to be affected by tension between South Africa and the US over the African nation’s relations with Russia. Russia and South Africa are holding joint naval exercises with China this week.
“It would be stupid for us to terminate this program,” Graham said. “If this springs up in Africa, it will come to us.”
He expects congressional reauthorization of Pepfar funding next year to be “emphatic.”
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