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GOP Targets PEPFAR, a Bush-Era Program That Saved Millions

GOP Targets PEPFAR, a Bush-Era Program That Saved Millions

Photo by Michele Ferrari via Pexels

After going after marriage equality, trans rights, and abortion services, Republicans take aim at a pivotal HIV program.

One might think that Dr. Anthony Fauci, after 54 years working at the National Institutes of Health and helping save countless lives, is ready to get some rest. However, Dr. Fauci doesn’t have time to retire.

Last month, Fauci joined Georgetown University School of Medicine’s Department of Medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases as a Distinguished Professor. He was also appointed to the university’s McCourt School of Public Policy.

“I’ve also been busy lecturing and writing my memoir, and since I’ve been out of the NIH for seven months, I’m not following the ins and outs of the government, but I am paying attention to what’s going on with PEPFAR,” he tells me.

PEPFAR is the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, which was signed into law 20 years ago this summer by President George W. Bush. It serves as a conduit to providing HIV medications to individuals in impoverished nations who would otherwise lack access to these drugs.

When I spoke to Fauci a couple years ago years ago on the 40th anniversary of the discovery of HIV, he cited the opportunity to be the architect of PEPFAR as one of his greatest achievements. “It is the largest commitment by any nation to address a single disease in history,” he told me. “It’s been an honor to help lead this. I really value my participation in this program that has already saved 15-18 million (in 2021) lives around the world.”

“PEPFAR impact has been truly remarkable,” Fauci told me during our more recent phone call. “It is one of this country’s greatest global health policies in history. It’s been a resounding success, and has saved at least 25 million lives worldwide and it provides antiretroviral treatments for over 20 million people worldwide.”

However, groundless claims from anti-abortion activists have put the program in jeopardy. Conservative and anti-abortion groups sent a letter to Republicans in Congress who are responsible for PEPFAR’s reauthorization. The letter said that PEPFAR funds are “used by nongovernmental organizations that promote abortions and push a radical gender ideology abroad.” They provided no evidence to back their claim.

Also, the ultra-conservative Heritage Organization released a report that said Congress needs to “reassess” PEPFAR. The report claimed, “The Biden Administration has misused the program as a well-funded vehicle to promote its domestic radical social agenda overseas, as it has done with other foreign aid programs.” This so-called report also did not provide any proof.

As a result, Republicans in Congress are threatening not to reauthorize the program.

“The idea that this program would be interrupted, despite its overwhelming success, is unfortunate,” Fauci said. “There’s a real danger to associate the program with cultural issues as opposed to scientific ones that clearly show PEPFAR is saving lives.”

“it seems paradoxical that [anti]-abortion rights groups who fight for life want to interfere with a program that has saved millions of lives,” Fauci pointed out. “If the program doesn’t function, lives aren’t saved, millions of them.”

Instead of castigating the program, shouldn’t these groups, as well as all Americans, be celebrating the 20th anniversary of this milestone? “What’s ironic is that it was signed into law by a conservative Republican President, and it is without question George W. Bush’s greatest achievement. It took years to put together, in a bipartisan way, and it is one of the world’s signature global health initiatives. The thought of it not being authorized is not only dangerous, but disastrous.”

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