How Christians Were Galvanized in the Fight to Eradicate AIDS by US Government Initiative PEPFAR

On the 32nd commemoration of World AIDS Day, Christian groups remember their role in leveraging political will to create a transformative global public-private partnership that has shaped the trajectory of AIDS pandemic.

Last month, global political leaders finalized commitments to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, extending funding through 2023. The Global Fund, founded in 2002, received a boost the following year when President George W. Bush established the President’s Executive Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), a US initiative that evangelicals championed and played a critical role in drafting.

The 2019 documentary 27 Million Lives showcases how evangelical organizations and musicians like Michael W. Smith helped promote awareness for the cause, resulting in PEPFAR’s broad support from across the faith community and both parties. The film’s title references the estimated number of lives saved since 2004 because of the work of organizations receiving PEPFAR funds, beginning with a $15 billion commitment over five years.

PEPFAR and the Global Fund “are not any one president’s program, not any one party’s program,” said Michael Gerson, who served in the Bush White House, in the recent documentary. “They really are the American people coming together to do something amazing in the world.”

Several humanitarian groups who have been involved with the campaign—like World Vision, World Relief, and Food for the Hungry—have spoken up in recent years against proposed cuts to foreign aid under an “American First” budget and have defended the country’s continued role in the eradication of AIDS around the globe.

When President Donald Trump initially proposed a 20 percent reduction to this year’s PEPFAR funding, Congress rejected the cuts, resulting in flat funding for the 2019 appropriation. US Global AIDS coordinator Deborah Birx described the new budget as a good thing, saying that it requires spending to be as impactful and efficient as possible. Evangelicals involved in the AIDS fights previously pressured the Obama administration to keep funding high.

Globally, the investment is working. Data show HIV/AIDS infection rates dropping and access to treatment rising. According to the UNAIDS, about 38 million people around the globe were living with HIV in the last year and 23.3 million of those infected had access to antiretroviral therapy to treat the disease.

Each year, fewer people are contracting the disease. New HIV infections fell from 1.8 million in 2017 to 1.7 million in 2018, down from 2.8 million in 2000. In 2018, 160,000 new infections were reported in children under 16, a drop from the 450,000 new infections in 2000.

Faith groups’ role

Patrick Purtill, director of legislative affairs for the Faith and Freedom Coalition, noted in the 27 Million Lives documentary that PEPFAR organizers “had to involve the faith community, both domestically here in the United States and maybe more importantly in the host countries where we were trying to deliver the services.”

In many PEPFAR-receiving countries, faith-based organizations (FBOs) and ministries represent the largest provider of HIV services outside the government.

“FBOs and other religious institutions have been on the ground for decades, even centuries, providing care, and treatment to communities outside the reach of public health systems, and acting as a voice for the voiceless,” according to PEPFAR’s 2019 report. Globally, faith-based organizations were among the first to respond to children suffering from or orphaned by HIV/AIDS, it said.

Because these organizations are uniquely situated in communities, they have been able to offer holistic responses that go beyond the disease itself.

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Source: Christianity Today