A week ago, VOA’s Daybreak Africa program ran an interview with Africa analyst Emira Woods, co-director of Foreign Policy in Focus at the Washington-based Institute for Policy Studies. Woods described U.S. First Lady Laura Bush’s most recent visit to Africa as lacking substance. She also described President Bush’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, known as PEPFAR as driven by the administration’s political ideology.
Doctor Tom Kenyon is principle deputy coordinator and chief medical officer of the State Department’s Office of U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator. He VOA that Woods’ criticism ignores the fact that PEPFAR has overwhelming bi-partisan support.
“The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, otherwise know as PEPFAR is the most comprehensive response to the HIV epidemic, and it’s really driven by not only the compassion of the American people and bi-partisan support from Congress, but also an evidence-based approach based in public health and programs that are consistent with the national priorities of the countries in which we work. We partner with the host governments to implement programs that they have articulated in their national health strategies; we’re simply there to be a catalyst, a major partner in taking these programs to scale in order to prevent as many infections as possible, to save as many lives as possible, and to improve the quality of life of those living with HIV,” he said.
In her analysis, Woods said PEPFAR was politically driven and that it emphasizes abstinence and faithfulness. But Kenyon said Woods is misinformed on PEPFAR’s approach to HIV prevention.
“The whole point is that our approaches are based in evidence. The Absence, Be faithful and Condom approach to prevention is a comprehensive approach. But the whole point of the absence component in particular is to help empower young people to wait before they are sexually active. They are more susceptible to HIV at a young age, and they need to get an education and to grow up to be responsible young adults. The Be Faithful message is primarily to reduce partners, which we know is a major contributing factor to transmission, especially having multiples concurrent partners. And of course using condoms, particularly in high risk exposures to prevent transmission in those settings,” he said.
Kenyon reiterated that PEPFAR did not initiate ABC (Abstain, Be faithful and Condoms use). Instead he said it is homegrown in African countries.
He also said since PEPFAR came into being in 2003, more than 1.1 million people in sub-Saharan Africa have received lifesaving antiretroviral treatment under the program.