Guest Post: PEPFAR - A Decade of Saving Lives
Foundation Ambassador Florence Ngobeni-Allen writes about the impact of the President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief in her native South Africa and on her family.
In my 17 years of living with HIV, I have never known a program as big as the President's Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). I was introduced to PEPFAR in 2004 in South Africa, and over the course of the next few years, I witnessed a transformation of HIV/AIDS services in my country. There was a massive renewal of hope brought by the accessibility of services for HIV-positive women. Suddenly, everyone started getting more involved, and the leaders in my country initiated talks with PEPFAR that saved lives. More than anything else, people like me got a second chance, and hundreds of thousands of babies were born without HIV because their mothers could access anti-retroviral medication (ARVs).
Organizations like the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation partnered with PEPFAR to support places such as the Chris Hani Baragwanath hospital in Soweto, where I worked. Through EGPAF and other organizations, more mothers could save their children’s lives. The collaboration of organizations like EGPAF and PEPFAR impacted people in my country on a massive scale. As a counselor back then, I understood the difference that programs like these made. I shared the joy of mothers and fathers whenever I gave them their children’s HIV results; I remember proudly telling them that their kids are OK, they are healthy. We hugged, danced, and cried tears of joy.
The joy I saw in those mothers’ eyes brought me to a decision that I made with my husband, my doctors, and my community. We decided to try for a baby. This was possible because we had information about how to prevent the transmission of HIV from mother to child – we knew that things could be all right. We were blessed with a baby boy named Alexander, and later on we were again blessed with another boy, Kulani. My two boys have both tested negative for HIV. PEPFAR supported services that saved my children’s lives. I know that if I were not on lifelong HIV medication myself, my children would be orphans. I am thankful to my government that has allowed PEPFAR to assist us in the fight against HIV and help me remain healthy. The partnership that was built has made a huge difference in our health infrastructures. PEPFAR brought hope, and it saved children’s lives. It got people living with HIV involved in decision-making processes.
Last year on World AIDS Day, I was asked by the United States government to travel to Washington, D.C. and join them to announce PEPFAR’s “Blueprint” for an AIDS-free generation. I was honored to be in the presence of such figures as then-U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Global AIDS Coordinator Ambassador Eric Goosby, UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibe, and our own Chairperson of the African Union, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.
I felt that my fellow brothers and sisters back home would now understand the role that PEPFAR has played in our lives, and I was humbled to be the one chosen to represent people living with HIV all over the world. To me, PEPFAR has played a role that no donor can ever replace. They have given us a model on how to strengthen health care systems, how to coordinate with other stakeholders, and how to get politicians to commit to the fight against HIV. More doctors and nurses have been trained, and monitoring and evaluation processes were put in place in countries around the world.
One of our great leaders, Desmond Tutu, once said “A person is a person through other persons; you can't be human in isolation; you are human only in relationships.” The PEPFAR program, begun by U.S. President George Bush and carried forward by President Obama, realizes this. By helping people when help was needed most, PEPFAR has provided the leadership needed to fight effectively against the global problem that is HIV/AIDS. The fight is not yet over, but with PEPFAR's continued support, this is a fight we will win, and the world will be a better and healthier place as a result.