Twenty-one years ago, President George W. Bush stood in the White House Rose Garden to make an announcement that was nothing short of visionary at the time: to save the lives of millions of children around the world, his administration would put $500 million toward preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV.
At the time, many countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, were being ravaged by HIV. As Bush pointed out, the disease had already killed 20 million people and was poised to take many millions more. He noted that globally, close to 2,000 babies were being infected with HIV every day — either during pregnancy, birth or through breast feeding. This tragedy could not be allowed to continue, at least not on America’s watch.
And it didn’t.
Bush would go on to launch the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, PEPFAR, the largest commitment by any nation to address a single disease in history. Since its creation, it has saved 25 million lives, rates of mother-to-child transmission have plummeted and 5.5 million babies have been born free of HIV who otherwise would have been infected. Some countries have even eliminated mother-to-child transmission altogether.
PEPFAR’s success is nothing short of breathtaking — but the program needs to be reauthorized by Congress. If our lawmakers don’t act soon, children’s lives could be at risk.
The gospel of Luke says that to whom much is given, much will be required. We are a tremendously blessed nation, and we have a responsibility to those around the world who are less fortunate. PEPFAR helps HIV-positive pregnant mothers give birth to healthy babies who can survive and thrive in dignity throughout a long and full life. It helps HIV-positive children get life-saving treatment. It has provided care for more than 7 million orphans and vulnerable children.
PEPFAR is currently required to allocate a certain amount of money to children impacted by HIV, but if it is not reauthorized, those legal provisions would end, putting lives at risk. Furthermore, PEPFAR’s shining example of American leadership would see its light dimmed, signaling to the world that ending HIV is no longer a priority, that millions of innocent children and babies no longer are a priority. This is unacceptable.
The morals around this are crystal clear. But for those concerned about spending on foreign aid, the United States typically spends less than 1% of its total budget on foreign aid. It’s our duty to use that relatively tiny bucket of funds as wisely and impactfully as possible. And the dollars spent fighting global HIV had an outsize impact — and continue to do so today.
PEPFAR embodies the Christian values that we hold dear, particularly generosity, love and compassion. Creating PEPFAR was an act of compassion by a Republican president. It debunked the idea that some problems are too big and too expensive to solve. It rejected the notion that some lives aren’t worth saving. It projected American leadership and moral authority on the world stage.
PEPFAR has been an extraordinary success and continues to save millions of lives. Congress must reauthorize it now.
Rev. Dr. Gabriel Salguero is pastor of The Gathering Place, a Latino-led multi-ethnic Assemblies of God congregation in Orlando, Florida. He is president and founder of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition.