In 2003, HIV/AIDS was ravaging the world—killing millions of adults and leaving tens of millions of children orphaned in Africa and beyond. Some at the time predicted that an entire generation would be wiped off the map in Africa. And that is likely what would have happened if not for an idea that started small, gained momentum and eventually swept through the Congress to become a law that completely transformed the HIV/AIDS landscape in the developing world.
Today, I had the opportunity to join an elite group of leaders at the U.S. State Department in celebrating the tenth anniversary of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). In June 2003, President George W. Bush signed into law the most comprehensive and impactful legislation ever in the area of HIV/AIDS. In fact, it is arguably the most important single piece of foreign assistance legislation ever focused on one area of need: $15 billion to reverse the ugly, red tide of AIDS in this world. And the impact in the last 10 years has been nothing short of astounding.
According to a widely cited study (Walensky and Kuritzkes, 2010):
PEPFAR has been a huge success. By October 2008, 110.1 million worldwide were receiving HIV/AIDS-related care and 2.1 million people were receiving life-saving treatment. AIDS-related mortality in PEPFAR countries decreased by 10.5% relative to non-PEPFAR countries, a difference that translates into 1.2 million lives saved. Though quantifying the impact of prevention interventions in terms of infections averted is more difficult, such interventions have reached 150 million people, and concurrently, UNAIDS reported a downward trend globally in new infections.
And these gains in the first five years of the program have been multiplied significantly in the past five years to the place where many are now talking about an AIDS-free generation in the next decade. In the 10-year celebration, Secretary of State Kerry noted that we have just crossed the mark of one million at-risk babies being born HIV-free. In a day when many wonder about the impact of U.S. foreign assistance, the story of PEPFAR is a great tale to tell.
As I sat in the State Department, I remembered another key milestone from 2003. Ten years ago, I helped to found a faith-based alliance that brought together over 15 U.S.-based Christian organizations in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Together, we were awarded over $40 million from the U.S. government to conduct HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and orphan care programs in eight countries in addition to millions more from private donors.
In the program managed by Food for the Hungry (FH), we reached over two million youth and married couples with a message of prevention based on abstinence and faithfulness. Many of those beneficiaries made significant lifestyle and behavior changes that took them out of harm’s way. In addition, we were able to positively impact the lives of thousands of orphans as well as treat AIDS victims with anti-retroviral medicine.
In thinking back over the past decade, I am so thankful to the Lord and to the donors and partners of FH. Without God’s grace and favor, we would not have achieved what we did. And without people like you supporting us financially, we would not have reached so many with life-giving help. Won’t you join us in this next decade?