May 22 2008

African AIDS treatment advocates could force a hold on PEPFAR bill among US Senators

AIDS Healthcare Foundation supports Coburn's treatment oriented version of global AIDS reauthorization bill

As a result of the meeting between US Senators, Congress Members and staffers in more than 20 legislators' offices, the delegation of AIDS Healthcare Foundation doctors and AIDS treatment clients from Africa have succeeded to have a promise from the Senators to a 'hold' on the bill to reauthorize the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).

 PEPFAR is the landmark legislation spearheaded by President Bush that led to the creation of the US global AIDS program.  

 The African delegation traveled to Washington to speak out firsthand about the importance of lifesaving antiretroviral AIDS treatment has concluded a successful week of advocacy on Capitol Hill as part of an effort to ensure that AIDS care and treatment remain a priority in PEPFAR, the successful US global AIDS program.  

 During the week, the delegation took part in a press conference with Senator Tom Coburn, M.D. (R-OK) and Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) during which the legislators' announced their intentions over the PEPFAR bill. 

 One of the AfricAlive portrait subjects, Fundiswa Doncabe, an AIDS treatment client from AHF's Ithembalbantu (Zulu for "people's hope") clinic in Durban, South Africa , was part of the African delegation lobbying Congress this week. 

 She traveled to Washington with her three year-old son, Thubelihle Shabalala, to tell her personal story of living successfully with AIDS thanks to her access to lifesaving antiretroviral treatment (ART).

"In 2000, after two years of being in and out of hospitals because of illnesses, I got tested, and I am now a 31 year old woman who is living with HIV," said Fundiswa Doncabe, of Durban
South Africa .  

 "I am one of the fortunate few who have been able to access antiretroviral treatment in South Africa , now through AIDS Healthcare Foundation's free Ithembalabantu AIDS treatment
clinic. ARVs have saved my life and have given me a second chance in life. I can see my future becoming brighter and very positive and that I will be able to raise up my son--now three
years-old, healthy and who has tested negative--because I am well thanks to these lifesaving medications. I would like to thank the providers of PEPFAR funding for such a contribution to
our lives, and wish that the funding for HIV care is taken as a first priority because there many, many people who are still needing treatment as well as the fact that treatment will help
in reducing the number of people dying of AIDS."

The current PEPFAR legislation, which is up for re-authorization by Congress, requires that a minimum of 55% of the funds be spent on care and treatment, a provision that has AHF believes has been key to PEPFAR's success.  

However, despite a tripling of funds to $50 billion in the re-authorization bill, Congress has unfortunately removed a requirement that any money be spent on treatment.  

The Senators announced their intention to press for the preservation of the requirement that treatment remain a priority of PEPFAR, and seek to restore a minimum funding floor for treatment to the bill.

The group also called for a significant increase in PEPFAR's treatment goals--up only 50% in the re-authorization despite a 330% increase in overall PEPFAR funding.

Three weeks ago, a previous AHF African delegation met with legislators and officials in over 35 Senate offices to call for the preservation of a treatment funding priority in PEPFAR, the landmark legislation spearheaded by President Bush that led to the creation of the successful US global AIDS program.

"Our African medical providers and AIDS treatment clients have had the chance to tell their personal stories from the front lines of the epidemic in some of the hardest-hit places in the world to US legislators through these past several weeks," said Michael Weinstein, President of AIDS Healthcare Foundation.  

 "If we are somehow unable to preserve the focus of PEPFAR on AIDS care and treatment, it will undoubtedly cost millions of people their lives. We thank our African partners and clients for their
tireless advocacy on this crucial issue, and we also thank the legislators and staffers with whom we met--in particular, we salute Senators Coburn, DeMint, Sessions, Chambliss, Vitter, Bunning and Burr for their courageous stand in favor of saving millions of lives and for working toward a future world without AIDS."

In addition, AHF's compelling traveling photo exhibition called 'AfricAlive - Portraits of Success' was on display in the Rotunda of the Russell Senate Office Building throughout the week in and effort to underscore what's possible with access to life-saving anti-retroviral treatments.  

AfricAlive, a celebration of life over death, a series of life-size photographic portraits of women, men and children in South Africa and Uganda who are among the fortunate few with access to anti-retroviral treatments obtained from AIDS Healthcare Foundation clinics.  

The photos, taken by globally recognized photographer, Dorit Thies, are accompanied by moving biographical sketches outlining each subject's personal story and the triumph of life over death.  

The exhibit has previously traveled to New York, Toronto, San Francisco, Oakland and Los Angeles .

PEPFAR was the result of President Bush's groundbreaking 2003 State of the Union pledge to bring two million HIV positive Africans and others into treatment and prevent seven million new
HIV infections via a five-year, $15 billion US-funded program. 

 It currently operates in 15 focus countries and claims to support antiretroviral treatment for 1.4 million people worldwide.

 PEPFAR has been one of the most successful global humanitarian programs in recent memory, providing medical care to millions of people with HIV/AIDS, it has given hope to the 33 million people with HIV/AIDS in the world.

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