Foundation Warns Proposed US Budget Cuts Could Result in More Infant HIV Infections

Voice of America | February 24, 2011

February has been dominated by debates about the U.S. budget and proposed cuts to foreign aid spending. Voice of America recently interviewed Foundation President and CEO Chip Lyons, who warned that the proposed cuts could result in an increase in infant HIV infections.

There were more warnings Tuesday about the consequences of proposed U.S. foreign aid budget cuts.

The Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric Aids Foundation says thousands of infants in developing countries could be needlessly infected with HIV if the cuts get final approval. The foundation operates programs to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV, most of them in sub-Saharan Africa.

Last week, the House of Representatives passed legislation cutting hundreds of millions of dollars from PEPFAR – the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief -- and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria. The organization is calling on the U.S. Senate and President Obama to reject the cuts.

“The proposed budget cuts,” says President and CEO Charles Lyons, “have very real implications of life and death in large numbers. These are major cuts that are being proposed that we haven’t seen before and it would reduce services that we help provide through PEPFAR. And they are really very, very worrying.”

Lyons says PEPFAR officials have calculated the potential consequences.

“If the House cuts to PEPFAR become law, and they don’t necessarily have to become law, PEPFAR estimates that there could be as many as a hundred thousand fewer pregnant women that receive services that protect their babies from the virus. That could result in at least 20,000 infants that are infected with HIV.”

He says up to half of children born infected, who don’t receive antiretroviral drug treatment, could die by their second birthday.

“Or if they were able to get access to services it means a lifetime of treatment, which is just a far, far greater cost,” says Lyons.

Drugs now used to prevent mother-to-child transmission are relatively cheap. Estimates for drugs and follow-up medical services range from $145 to $600.

Don’t make sense?

The Glaser Foundation president says the proposed cuts “don’t make economic sense. They don’t make economic sense. They don’t make political sense. I don’t think they make moral sense.”

Lyons says prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTC) has been not only cost effective, but also extremely successful. Five years ago, it’s estimated only 15 percent of women around the world had access to PMTCT services. It’s now 53 percent, according to PEPFAR.

“That is tremendous, steady, sustainable progress that is threatened by these proposed cuts,” he says.

Leading the way

“For the last eight, nine years, PEPFAR, started by President Bush, has led the world in services to fight HIV and AIDS,” Lyons says, adding, “The PEPFAR program is one of those in foreign assistance that truly enjoys bipartisan support.”

The Glaser foundation, CARE and other groups say they’re trying to correct a misperception among the American public that foreign aid is a major part of the U.S. budget.

“There’s a common misperception that foreign aid is as much as 25 percent of the federal budget. It’s one percent. These are the kinds of programs that the American people support. It’s very consistent with what we’ve seen in polls and what we say our values are and what we should be trying to accomplish with foreign assistance that’s effective,” says Lyons.