28 March 2005

Africa: Aids Still Destroying Lives And Hopes, Despite U.S. Efforts

Washington, DC — Ambassador Tobias highlights attempts to stem toll of virus

Despite progress in the worldwide fight against HIV/AIDS, the disease continues to devastate families, communities and nations around the world, says the coordinator of the U.S. Global AIDS Office, Ambassador Randall L. Tobias.

Speaking at Peace Corps headquarters March 24, Tobias, who coordinates all U.S. programs to fight HIV/AIDS, highlighted some of the early successes of the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) while lamenting the continuing impact the AIDS pandemic is having on developing nations. He spoke one day after the release of a progress report to the Congress on PEPFAR.

PEPFAR is a five-year campaign to support treatment for 2 million people living with HIV/AIDS, prevent 7 million new HIV infections and support care for 10 million infected with and affected by the disease. The effort is focused on 15 of the world's most affected countries, 12 of which are in Africa.

In 2004, the United States committed $2.4 billion to PEPFAR, including more than $865 million to support integrated prevention, treatment and care programs in the 15 focus countries. The remaining $1.54 billion was used to support HIV/AIDS programs in 96 additional countries, international research and other HIV/AIDS efforts, including donations to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

Tobias pointed out that in late 2002 only 50,000 people were receiving lifesaving antiretroviral therapy (ART) in all of sub-Saharan Africa. But just eight months into the implementation of PEPFAR, 155,000 HIV-positive new patients, both children and adults, were receiving treatment -- on pace to exceed the year-one goal of treating 200,000, he said.

Tobias said he was proud of PEPFAR's initial successes, including programs run through the Peace Corps, but he also noted the effect HIV/AIDS continues to have on younger populations in developing nations, especially in Africa. Not only is the loss of so many young people in the hardest-hit nations tragic in itself, Tobias said, but also the loss of the next generation has "grave consequences" on a country's ability to lift itself out of poverty.

"Young adults are among the hardest hit by HIV/AIDS, so when the virus kills people in the prime of their lives, it is not only a human tragedy for those individuals, it is really a blow to the society and the country in which they live because it is destroying the precious human capital that otherwise would be building the future of those countries," Tobias said.

At the same time, the death of parents from AIDS leaves many orphans, creating new challenges within the communities and countries and a situation in which youth become so preoccupied with the struggle to survive that they are unable to develop personally, he said.

"Children who lose their parents are obviously far less likely to attend school. So how can those children reach their potential if they are locked in a desperate struggle for their own very survival?" Tobias asked.

He noted that many families are now being headed by young children, citing cases in which children as young as 10 years old are forced to assume responsibility for the care of many younger siblings.

PEPFAR does include funding to address this specific issue, providing support tailored to households that have lost parents to HIV/AIDS, Tobias said, by enlisting the local community for assistance, keeping children close to friends and family.

Tobias repeatedly stressed that the goal of U.S. efforts under PEPFAR is to help build capacity within nations for them to fight the disease, to "take ownership" of the problem, while continuing to support local efforts to fight HIV/AIDS.

"Our capacity building work should not be about making it possible for the U.S., the U.N. and non-governmental organizations to do more in the future; it is really about making it possible for host nations to increasingly do more," he said.

Tobias linked the consequences of HIV/AIDS, and the loss of hope in many countries suffering from the social and developmental effects of the disease, to the global War on Terror. He emphasized that in the wake of the September 11, 2001, attacks it is clear that U.S. security depends on promoting peace, freedom and especially hope around the world.

He characterized HIV/AIDS as "the biggest destroyer of hope," without which "people can be driven to extremes," so it would be unwise, he said, to assume that desperate situations in other countries will not have an effect on U.S. citizens.

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