The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) is the largest commitment in history, by any nation, to an international health initiative dedicated to a single disease. Its success has been acclaimed around the world by experts across a broad political spectrum.
As Congress considers reauthorizing the funds for this historic initiative, Democrats and Republicans ought to remain committed to the program’s original purpose, including its provision for significant mandatory funding for abstinence, faithfulness, and treatment activities. Plans to expand the program carry the risk of sacrificing the most effective methods of prevention for the sake of political expediency.
In 2002, Samaritan’s Purse — an organization aimed at helping those in desperate need — held an international conference with the goal of strengthening the Christian response to HIV/AIDS by mobilizing government, corporate, and church resources. Today, faith-based organizations remain at the forefront of these programs across the globe.
Some would argue that faith-based approaches to HIV prevention are ineffective. I disagree. The success of such programs has been proclaimed by renowned authorities in the public health community around the world.
For instance, Edward C. Green of Harvard University has said, “In every African country in which HIV infections have declined, this decline has been associated with a decrease in the proportion of men and women reporting more than one sex partner over the course of a year — which is exactly what fidelity programs promote.” Similarly, a Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health study of the Samaritan’s Purse program in Mozambique found that “never married, particularly women, do receive, understand and practice abstinence messages.”
Just as studies prove the dramatic results of positive behavior change (fidelity and abstinence) in reducing the spread of the disease, HIV/AIDS prevalence rates in countries such as Botswana and Uganda, whose national prevention strategies have moved away from abstinence and faithfulness education, have shown an increase in the disease’s prevalence.
The prevention of mother-to-child transmission is also a vital component of Christian HIV/AIDS programs. Mission hospitals across the globe and particularly in Africa, are providing the necessary treatment to protect unborn children from infection. These same facilities are bringing hope to those who were living under a death sentence by distributing life-saving antiretroviral drugs.
AIDS is not curable, but it is treatable and preventable. The focus of PEPFAR should remain on the prevention of new infections and treatment for those who are infected. We must remain committed and strictly focused on those programs that are most effective in prevention, treatment, and care, and resist attempts to siphon off funds for private interests and agendas.
For many years, most of the world was willing to ignore the global HIV/AIDS crisis. In the last five years, President Bush has provided global leadership and has brought together an international coalition of governments, churches, and businesses never before seen in the area of healthcare.
Let’s protect the president’s AIDS initiative from becoming the latest victim of the tragedy of AIDS.
– Franklin Graham leads Samaritan’s Purse, a nonprofit, Christian organization that provides immediate, no-red-tape response to the physical and spiritual needs of individuals in crisis situations — especially in locations where few others are working.