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Experts Highlight Gains in US Global HIV/AIDS Fight

The AIDS Care Training and Support Initiative (ACTS) at White River Junction, South Africa, partly funded by the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, supports development of a palliative unit for care, education, training for staff and caregivers,

Lawmakers and health experts speaking to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs have praised the success of PEPFAR, the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. The initiative was launched under then-president George W. Bush in 2003 as the largest effort by any nation to combat a single disease.

The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Thomas Frieden, highlighted the gains made in fighting HIV/AIDS under the initiative, which targets areas including Africa, Asia, South Asia and the Caribbean.

"Today more than 2.5 million people are alive, productive and healthy who would otherwise have been dead or dying without PEPFAR," he said.

He says last year alone, 100,000 babies who would have otherwise been infected by their HIV-positive mothers were born free of the virus, because of PEPFAR.

Despite the successes, he says two challenges remain.

"First, we need to scale up treatment sustainably and cost effectively to reach even more people. And second, we need to take prevention to the next level," said Frieden.

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci says enormous gains have been made with anti-retroviral drug treatments since the CDC identified the first cases of the disease in 1981.

"If a young 20-year-old comes into my clinic tomorrow, with newly acquired HIV infection, and I start him on this drug, I could confidently tell him that if he adheres to the regimen, we can mathematically predict that the person will live an additional 50 years," said Fauci.

Committee Chairman Howard Berman, a California Democrat, says globally the overall rate of new HIV infections has slowed and prevalence rates have leveled off. But he reminded the panel of the challenges and scope of the epidemic.

"We still have 33.4 million people living with HIV worldwide. Only 42 percent of those in need of treatment have access," Berman said.

Republican Representative Chris Smith of New Jersey outlined some concerns with PEPAR, including the Obama administration's implementing it as part of the new Global Health Initiative, or GHI.

"Another major concern is GHI's emphasis on integrating HIV/AIDS programming with family planning as well as various health programs," said Smith.

While praising the gains made by PEPFAR, the anti-abortion lawmaker expressed concern that the effort is being undertaken in the context of a family planning program that now includes foreign non-governmental organizations that provide, support and seek the expansion of access to abortion.