Experts Discuss PEPFAR Funding In Congressional Hearing

At a recent hearing of the House Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health, “[i]nternational health organisations working to help check the spread of AIDS in Africa said meagre increases in funds from the U.S. government this year would be a step backwards. Some experts also emphasised that prevention must get appropriate attention in any fight against the disease,” Inter Press Service reports.

Experts testified that President Barack Obama’s current FY 2011 budget request for PEPFAR, which increases funding by 2.2 percent from the previous year, could prevent new patients from receiving antiretroviral (ARV) drugs, according to the news service.

PEPFAR funding levels over the last two years have forced Ugandan facilities to turn away new patients seeking ARVs, said Peter Mugyenyi, director and founder of the Joint Clinical Research Centre in Kampala, Uganda. “New PEPFAR contract awards emphasise treatment for only those already on it and only very limited slots for new patients,” according to Mugyenyi. He added that some families were sharing ARVs, which could fuel drug resistance, the news service reports (Sahoo, 3/12).

Uganda is currently treating 170,000 patients, but an estimated 350,000 require treatment, Mugyenyi said, VOA News reports in an article focusing on his testimony. “Across the continent, he estimates the number of HIV/AIDS patients on anti-retroviral drugs to be about three million. ‘And yet those in immediate need of antiretroviral therapy are estimated to be over seven million,'” Mugyenyi said (DeCapua, 3/12).

Joanne Carter, executive director of the RESULTS Educational Fund, said, “Under-funding these initiatives will prohibit us from seizing major opportunities in our global AIDS response,” according to IPS. Norman Hearst, a professor of family and community medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, said he is concerned about “prevention funds being siphoned away by treatment funds.”

According to IPS, “Uganda, for instance, made prevention a success story in the late 1980s and 1990s – long before any treatment was available – by convincing people to follow certain preventive measures, Hearst said. But now, the country has forgotten this history as a rash of foreign donations is ramping up AIDS treatment.” Hearst acknowledged that PEPFAR funding cannot meet ever-increasing demands. “PEPFAR needs to face the reality,” he said at the hearing (3/12).

More information on Obama’s FY 2011 budget is available on Kaiser’s Budget Tracker.

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