News / Africa

Proposed Budget Cuts Could Threaten PEPFAR

Chip Lyons with child in Kenya.
Chip Lyons with child in Kenya.
Joe DeCapua

President Obama and congress continue to wrangle over ways to cut spending and reduce government debt. This week, some members of congress took aim at international health funding.

Wrong time?

The House of Representatives Sub-committee on State and Foreign Operations Appropriations is proposing cuts that include a $700-million reduction to the president’s Global Health Initiative. That could have a direct impact on PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.

“It really is very, very concerning and comes at exactly the wrong time,” said Charles Lyons, president and CEO of the Elizabeth Pediatric AIDS Foundation.

He’s concerned about losing the gains that have been made against the epidemic.

“Looking back over the last number of years,” Lyons said, “U.S. leadership and really very smart investments in the fight against AIDS have helped to produce huge gains against AIDS, save lives, help to get people on treatment and we now have the very real prospect of eliminating AIDS in children.”

Taking it seriously

There’s no guarantee the proposed cuts would receive final approval in the House and eventually be approved by the Senate. And if they did, whether President Obama would go along with them. Nevertheless, Lyons said the Glaser foundation and other organizations are taking the matter very seriously.

“There are many partners. We would be among those who presumably would have less funding to provide every single day the kind of services that we do that make sure that women are tested, that they’re counseled, they get appropriate treatment,” he said.

The Glaser Foundation has programs to help HIV positive pregnant women. “There are steps that we can take to virtually ensure that their babies are born negative. That means a child avoids a lifetime of treatment,” Lyons said.

He warned that if enacted the proposed cuts would have wide-ranging effects, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. “Clinics and hospitals in the thousands would be less equipped, have less support to provide the kind of services that go on every single day.”

Game changer

Lyons said in his many years working in international health, he’s never witnessed the kind of progress brought by PEPFAR, which started under the Bush administration and continues under President Obama.

“It really has been a game changer. In no other instance, have I seen such profound gratitude and respect for the United States and the role it’s played in providing the leadership and the investments it has. I mean that’s what Americans prioritize when they think about, talk about foreign assistance,” he said.

In a statement, the Glaser Foundation stated, “We urge Congress to make the right decision, both morally and economically, to preserve federal funding for global health programs.”

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