The initiative begun by former president George W. Bush to stop the ravages of AIDS in Africa has saved more than one million lives, according to a new report. The study tracked AIDS deaths and HIV infections in 12 African countries getting aid under the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR, during the four years after it was launched in 2003 as a five-year, $15 billion effort…. “It has averted deaths — a lot of deaths — with about a 10 percent reduction compared with neighboring African countries” [Reuters], said study coauthor Eran Bendavid. That reduction translates to about 1.1 million lives saved.
However, the study also found that the initiative had no effect on the prevalence of the disease, suggesting that it has been more effective at keeping infected people alive than in preventing new infections. Critics of the program said it didn’t put enough money toward prevention of HIV/AIDS. About a fifth of the funds were dedicated to prevention, and a third of that had to be used for abstinence-only programs. Congress reauthorized the program last year, removing the abstinence-only stipulation and increasing funding to $48 billion [San Jose Mercury News].
The prevalence rates are still staggering: For example, about 18 percent of people in South Africa are infected with HIV. But bringing that number down requires that a program drastically reduce the number of new infections, says Peter Piot, a former director of the United Nations Joint Program on HIV/AIDS. “PEPFAR is changing the course of the AIDS epidemic…. People are not dying. That is spectacular,” Piot said…. “The irony — and it is a positive irony — is that the more people are staying alive, the higher the percentage” of those living with HIV will be [Bloomberg].
The new report, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, was intended to examine the efficacy of this large foreign-aid health program, in light of U.S. budgetary concerns. Says Bendavid: “People want to see where [the money is] spent and where it’s working best. We did this to see if we could contribute to the debate about the usefulness of foreign aid.” The study found that the program’s cost per life saved was $2,450 during 2004 to 2007 [Bloomberg].
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Image: White House / Eric Draper