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Obama Commits to Increased HIV/AIDS Support, But Unclear How Much

In his proposed new budget, President Obama is calling for increasing support for HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment. However, it's unclear just how much more funding AIDS-related programs will receive in these tight economic times.

The head of the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation says she hopes the budget proposal means more money for PEPFAR, the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, and for prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV. The foundation has programs in many African countries.

Pamela Barnes spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about the president's proposed spending for HIV/AIDS.

"I think we are optimistic. You know the PEPFAR reauthorization last year came through with very strong bipartisan support, including President Obama and Vice-president Biden. And I think this budget proposal at least indicates a commitment to increase foreign aid and foreign assistance. And what we know about the HIV/AIDS programs supported by the US government is that they've been successful," she says.

It may be a while before firm figures are released on HIV/AIDS spending. "In 2009, the budgets were basically flat-lined and we really have been pushing hard to be cost effective and continue to show increasing results," she says.

The Glaser foundation focuses on children and pregnant women. "We are really focused on creating a generation free of HIV. I think what the president challenged many of us to do and think about…was to move away from short-term thinking and push out to really look to that next generation. We know how to prevent mother-to-child transmission. We've done it in the developed world. And we know that we can create a generation free of HIV in those countries deeply affected,' she says.

Barnes says the US funded AIDS-related programs in sub-Saharan Africa have been a success but much more can be done.

"What we've seen is great impact in terms of being able to reach more and more women who are pregnant. For example, just two years ago all of the programs trying to reach pregnant women to prevent the transmission (of HIV) from mother to child were reaching fewer than 15 percent of the women who needed those services. We've now doubled that outreach. We're now reaching 30 percent.… The new legislation has really pushed for a target of reaching 80 percent of the women who need that care. We are on our way to being able to do that," she says.

She says it's a "challenge of implementation," not one of scientific breakthrough.

"I think one of the greatest constraints we face in the countries where we work is the shortage of qualified trained personnel. So, one of the major areas of focus of the revised legislation, the new legislation, is to train more and more health workers. And we are doing that," she says.

Barnes has just returned from rural Tanzania, where community health workers are being trained to administer the drugs needed to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV.