SEATTLE, Washington — The 23rd International AIDS Conference took place in July 2020. Headed by the International AIDS Society, the conference is a leader in change toward the global HIV response. It offers an opportunity for discussion with several important communities. Scientists discuss advancements in understanding and treating HIV. Policymakers debate the most effective methods of care implementation. Healthcare professionals can connect with communities to maximize the impact of treatment. People living with HIV are given a voice to share their stories and be active agents of change. The U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) was among the many bodies in attendance. PEPFAR shared its progress, highlighting significant advancements in improving the lives of those living with HIV. Overall, PEPFAR is making strides in its HIV response.
Created in 2003 under the Bush administration, PEPFAR unites seven U.S. Government departments and agencies to address the nation’s role in global HIV response efforts. PEPFAR is responsible for an $85 billion investment in prevention, treatment and control of HIV globally.
Its approach outlines several issues of interest as key steps toward moving forward. For one, PEPFAR advocates for greater access to testing and treatment for men, particularly those under the age of 35. Progress towards this goal can be seen through the initiative’s commitment to the MenStar Coalition. Improving care for young women and girls is another key step that is addressed through DREAMS efforts. Global involvement is necessary to inspire success, which is why PEPFAR engages with faith-based organizations and encourages contributions from its partner governments.
As of September 30, 2019, PEPFAR’s latest global results have been remarkable. By caring for mothers, PEPFAR cares for the children as the status of mothers impacts birth. PEPFAR has enabled over 2.6 million babies of HIV-infected mothers to be born HIV-free. Other noteworthy strides have been made in testing and treatment. A whole 79.6 million people benefitted from testing services in 2019 and as many as 15.7 million people received antiretroviral treatment, including 700,000 children. These numbers reflect clearly that PEPFAR is making strides in its HIV response.
The World DREAMS Big
In sub-Saharan African, young women and girls are at an increased risk of HIV and complications. Young girls account for greater numbers of new infections and “young women aged between 15 and 24 are twice as likely to be living with HIV than men.”
DREAMS (Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-free, Mentored and Safe) is a collaborative partnership that builds up women and girls living with HIV to create a healthier environment for growth and success.
Over $800 million has been given towards the cause thanks to support from organizations like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Johnson & Johnson. These efforts provided 1.5 million young women and girls with quality care in a matter of six months.
The investment has been worthwhile, with young girls and women seeing a 25% drop in HIV diagnoses in PEPFAR active areas. In response to this success, PEPFAR is investing $400 million into the project, doubling its previous support.
Going Further to Address HIV and Cervical Cancer
DREAMS is not the only initiative looking out for women with HIV. Go Further, launched in 2018, sees cooperation between PEPFAR, the George W. Bush Institute, UNAIDS and Merck. The partnership specifically addresses cervical cancer.
Women living with HIV are at a higher risk of developing cervical cancer. Go Further’s bold objective is to “reduce new cervical cancer cases by 95% among women living with HIV in 12 African countries” through increased education, screenings and treatment. The initiative has expanded its horizons and now is providing services in 12 nations: Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. For 2021, Go Further has pledged $93 million toward the cause.
MenStar Coalition: Why Men?
The disparities faced by women does not remove men from the equation. MenStar Coalition recognizes men are part of the solution and the global HIV response should reflect this. As men are less likely to seek testing, they are less likely to know their HIV status. Regarding treatment, men have lower rates of beginning and continuing treatment.
PEPFAR is a key member of the coalition, alongside six other organizations: the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, the Elton John AIDS Foundation, Gilead Sciences, Johnson & Johnson, The Global Fund and Unitaid. The effort acknowledges the importance of the individual, centering its focus on the client. Its programs include a self-testing initiative, efforts to encourage HIV services and an emphasis on improved connections between healthcare providers and clients.
The PEPFAR mission is far from complete. The daunting task of addressing HIV globally does not deter efforts, however. PEPFAR is certainly making strides in its HIV response. In fact, commitment to the cause is fueled both by PEPFAR’s past successes and the future goals yet to be reached.
– Kelli Hughes