EGPAF Responds: George W. Bush Urges Commitment to PEPFAR

Jon Hrusa, EGPAF

“We are on the verge of an AIDS-free generation,” former President George W. Bush wrote in an op-ed in The Washington Post on Friday, April 7. “But the people of Africa still need our help.”

Help is exactly what the former President has been offering over the past few weeks, wielding his influence to defend the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the life-saving initiative he launched in 2003. Beginning with a trip to Botswana and Namibia on April 4, and continuing with a U.S. media tour the following week, Mr. Bush has emphasized a simple plea to Washington’s budgetary stewards: PEPFAR works – to the tune of nearly 12 million lives saved – and the program should remain fully funded.

The Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation shares this view. As the world’s leading nonprofit dedicated to eliminating pediatric HIV and AIDS, we understand exactly how critical PEPFAR is. Through its support and funding, nearly 2 million healthy babies have been born to HIV-positive mothers since 2003. Between 2011 and 2016, new HIV infections in children dropped by 60%, representing hundreds of thousands of children given a healthy start which they otherwise would not have had. In short, we have seen overwhelming progress, witnessing exactly how far U.S. leadership can take us: Experts agree that with continued focus and sustained resources, we could end AIDS in children by 2020. Perhaps more than any other global health story this century, pediatric HIV/AIDS is an instructive example of the power of strategic investment and American generosity.

It is no surprise, then, that in his campaign to preserve PEPFAR, Mr. Bush has underscored the initiative’s impact on eliminating mother-to-child transmission of HIV. Upon meeting a handful of healthy babies born to HIV-positive mothers during his recent tour of a Namibian maternity ward, Mr. Bush reflected, “it was so heartwarming to see those hopeful young lives and their proud, relieved mothers – and it was a powerful reminder that we need to not only keep this effort alive, but also do more.” Mr. Bush later told NPR that meeting these families and witnessing the “unbelievably successful” record of PEPFAR in preventing mother-to-child transmission was “the most meaningful moment” of his trip.

Mr. Bush’s use of his post-Presidential platform to advocate for PEPFAR speaks volumes about how important this program is – and about how seriously he takes the potential budget cuts that could imperil the initiative. Further, his advocacy demonstrates that solving the HIV/AIDS crisis is an imperative that transcends partisanship. PEPFAR has always enjoyed strong bipartisan support in Congress, and remains popular on both sides of the aisle. But by addressing members of his own party about the importance of continuing to fund HIV prevention and treatment around the globe, Mr. Bush reminded us that PEPFAR is about far more than politics: it is an expression of the American principle that “all lives are precious, and to whom much is given, much is required.”