PEPFAR hits 1 million mark on saving babies from HIV

This baby boy, who has HIV-positive parents, was born HIV-free thanks to PEPFAR.

ONE’s global health policy expert Erin Hohlfelder shares some great news on the US’ work against HIV/AIDS. 

I have never been a big numbers person, and in advocacy work I usually tend to find stories and visuals more compelling than charts and formulas.  But as I walked out of a State Department event honoring the 10-year anniversary of the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) yesterday, I was surprised to leave with two numbers—“1 million” and “13”—stuck in my head.

The first number, 1 million, is the big milestone that got all the press.  In his first major speech on health since assuming his role as Secretary of State, John Kerry announced that US-funded PEPFAR programs have now saved 1 million babies, born to HIV-positive mothers, from being born with HIV.  He prefaced this announcement by saying it was something “we could literally only have dreamed about 10 years ago,” an assessment he could deliver with great credibility as someone who used his Senate career to help form and champion PEPFAR a decade ago.

Secretary Kerry Hosts the PEPFAR 10th Anniversary Celebration

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks at the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) 10th Anniversary Celebration. Photo credit: US Department of State

Though 1 million is just a numeric figure, it represents so much more.  It speaks volumes to how far the scientific community has come in its understanding of how to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV, improving treatment regimens and refining delivery techniques along the way.

RELATED: Read how ONE has been supporting PEPFAR throughout the years

It also exemplifies the term “return on investment,” leveraging low-cost, simple upfront prevention resources for mothers to generate huge, long-term cost-savings for their children, who won’t have to take lifelong antiretroviral treatments as a result. And it represents a million stories—most of which will remain unheard—of babies who grew up as healthy kids with bright futures ahead of them thanks to PEPFAR.

The second number, 13, was buried a bit further down in Secretary Kerry’s speech, but was equally noteworthy.  There are now 13 countries that have reached a national AIDS “tipping point,” at which the number of people added to treatment programs each year surpasses the number of people newly infected with HIV annually.

While definitions and ratios can sometimes seem like a bore, this one deserves our attention, because it gives us a clearer—though not complete —answer to the ultimate question: “Are we winning the fight against HIV/AIDS in Africa?”

In spite of this progress, significant challenges remain.  PEPFAR needs additional funding to continue making incredible progress. The Global Fund, which works with PEPFAR to deliver services, also needs $15 billion over next three-year period so it can work even harder to save lives.

Some countries remain far off from reaching an AIDS tipping point, and even for those who have reached it, the sheer scale of the AIDS crisis is still immense and troublesome.  The battle ahead is an uphill one.  But as we reflect on PEPFAR’s first decade, we should heed the encouragement of Secretary Kerry:

“Know that we can do the remarkable, that we can find solutions to what seems to be unsolvable … and we can leave politics and ideology at the wayside in order to choose life and possibilities for people everywhere.”

Help us ensure that The Global Fund, which works with PEPFAR to fight AIDS, gets the $15 billion it needs to save lives. Sign our petition here.