U.S. Senators Tom Coburn, M.D. (R-OK), a practicing physician and Richard Burr (R-NC) today introduced legislation that would ensure the highest priority for U.S. global HIV/AIDS funding would be saving lives by providing treatment to those infected and eliminating baby AIDS by preventing the transmission of HIV from mother to child,
"As the Senate begins the reauthorization of the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), it seems that some have forgotten that HIV/AIDS is a disease that we can diagnose, treat and prevent. Both the House and the Senate bills prioritize everything but diagnosis and treatment. AIDS experts' and Washington, DC consultants who have built an industry around the billions we spend on AIDS think they know how to spend the money better, but most Americans and most people affected by HIV/AIDS would agree that ending baby AIDS and providing treatment to those already infected should take precedence over spending for other initiatives that do not have the same lifesaving impact," said Dr. Coburn, who has personally delivered children with HIV and cared for HIV/AIDS patients.
"Perhaps the single, most significant achievement in the battle against HIV/AIDS has been the discovery of medical interventions that make it possible to virtually eliminate baby AIDS at relatively little cost. Yet, despite this promise, thousands of babies continue to be infected with HIV every year. Ending the tragedy of baby AIDS must be the highest priority of the tens of billions of dollars we are committing the U.S. taxpayer to spend," Dr. Coburn said.
"30 million people worldwide have HIV/AIDS and only two million people in developing countries currently receive treatment. We must do better," Burr said. "We need to continue to focus on providing life-saving medical treatment for those who suffer from this illness and we must improve early diagnosis so people who might not know their HIV status can get into treatment."
In addition to eliminating baby AIDS, the bill makes HIV diagnosis and treatment the highest priority for U.S. global AIDS spending. PEPFAR currently requires that a majority of U.S. global AIDS relief dollars be spent on medical care and treatment for people living with HIV/AIDS, but this requirement would no longer be part of our national strategy under the other bills before Congress.
Since the enactment of PEPFAR in 2003, over a million miracles have occurred in the form of lives saved. The American people have supported treatment for 1.1 million people in the 15 countries, including more than 1 million in Africa. Yet, fewer than 10 percent of the people living with HIV in the developing world are receiving treatment and most of the 33.2 million people living with HIV globally can not afford the life saving care that can keep them alive.
"Despite the ability to restore hope and health to these lives that otherwise face a near certain AIDS death sentence, the bills being advanced in Congress remove the requirement that the majority or PEPFAR funds be spent on medical care and treatment. Removing this treatment guarantee removes the promise and statutory commitment to saving lives that has been the centerpiece that has made the United States' global AIDS initiative so successful. PEPFAR has rescued approximately 1,450,000 people from the brink of certain death by placing them on antiretroviral treatment (ART). The ART phenomenon has been called the Lazarus effect' as those who were barely clinging to life are brought back to health and productivity within a few weeks or months. The House and Senate committees of jurisdiction have eliminated this life-saving provision that protects the priority of treatment funding. The Senate bill is slated to be passed out of committee tomorrow, and the bill authors and all those who support the bill should be ashamed of this historic betrayal of so many suffering around the world with HIV/AIDS. The bill we have introduced today gives Congress the opportunity to renew our commitment to saving the lives of the millions now living with HIV and to ensuring that every child at risk for HIV is spared an AIDS death sentence from the moment of birth," Dr. Coburn said.
"One of our highest priorities should be eliminating HIV/AIDS being passed on to babies. Medical breakthroughs have shown we can do this. Our legislation works to achieve these important goals," Burr added.