President George W. Bush: Mobilizing a global response

Every day this week, we’ll be highlighting a personal story from our new AIDS report, “Progress. Proof. Promise.” In this essay, former President George W. Bush discusses the impact that PEPFAR has had on the fight against AIDS.

THIS PHOTO MUST BE USED PER GWB TEAM - Baron Mosima Looyios Tantoh#1
In 2001, an AIDS pandemic threatened to destroy a generation of Africans. In country after country, people were needlessly dying even though new life-saving antiretroviral drugs were available at a reasonable cost. The humanitarian disaster called for dramatic action.

Against this backdrop, my administration decided to act and become part of the global effort to stop the spread of AIDS in the developing world. We began by helping create the multinational Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. It was a good start, but more was needed. So in 2003, with bipartisan support in Congress, we launched the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) to partner with officials in 15 countries hit hardest by the disease. Today, PEPFAR is active in more than 30 countries and, in total, provides funding to programs in 88 countries.

PEPFAR was built on a results-oriented strategy. Our first step was to intervene where we could make an immediate impact.
Unborn children whose mothers are HIV-positive are the saddest victims of the disease and among those who can be helped the most. So we began by providing pregnant women with medications that reduce mother-to-child transmissions of the disease. Then we expanded with prevention programs, care for orphaned children, and anti-retroviral treatments for those who suffer from HIV/AIDS.

I am proud of the contributions made by my fellow citizens. America’s initial PEPFAR commitment was $15 billion over five years. In 2008, the American people renewed their commitment and will now spend an additional $39 billion on PEPFAR and the Global Fund through 2013. I am also proud to have worked with Bono. His encouragement and inspiration played a vital role in winning support for these initiatives.

To some, the fight against HIV in Africa may have once seemed hopeless. A deadly disease with no cure posed a threat to African nations and a challenge to all of humanity. It also fed despair, which can lead to terrorism and violence.

But PEPFAR set the clear goal of saving lives and is getting results. A decade ago, an estimated 50,000 people were receiving antiretroviral treatments in sub-Saharan Africa. In 2010, PEPFAR provided antiretroviral treatment to more than 900,000 people in South Africa alone and to approximately 3.2 million people worldwide. Combined, the Global Fund and PEPFAR provided about 4.7 million people across the world with antiretroviral medications last year.

I wish every American could see the individuals whose lives have been transformed by our efforts. Thanks to PEPFAR, approximately 450,000 children have been born HIV-free since 2004 even though their mothers have the disease. I’ve met many HIV-positive mothers who have given birth to healthy children because of PEPFAR. One of them, Kunene Tantoh of South Africa, came to the White House with her son Baron in 2007. Watching him smile, I could see the life and vitality our efforts are making possible. Thanks to treatments she received, Kunene broke HIV’s bonds of death, and Baron was given a chance to live a full and productive life.

Read more about the fight against HIV/AIDS in our new report, “Progress. Proof. Promise.” Download the report here.