Weekly Columns

Recently, I used this column space to discuss how tragedy brings the international community together and to highlight U.S. efforts to assist those abroad suffering from catastrophic events like natural disasters.

However, humanitarian assistance doesn’t always take the form of disaster aid. We also engage in goodwill efforts that save thousands of lives, builds a trust with nations, helps with future diplomatic issues and advances our national security. These programs are a testament to the character of our country.

Case in point: The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). This U.S. government initiative to combat HIV/AIDS around the world started under the vision and leadership of President George W. Bush and has been credited with saving millions of lives over the past ten years.

PEPFAR received a new lease on life when the House of Representative and Senate overwhelmingly reauthorized it prior to Thanksgiving. This act of bipartisanship stands a stark contrast to the week’s other accomplishment which was the hyper partisanship power grab Senator Harry Reid conducted when he broke Senate rules to change the filibuster rules in his party’s favor.

The strong support for PEPFAR across party lines is largely based on the program’s proven track record. As Voice of America notes, PEPFAR “supports almost six million people worldwide who are receiving anti-retroviral drugs, and has provided care and support to nearly 15 million people, including more than 4.5 million orphans and vulnerable children.”

Prior to the creation of the program, an estimated 100,000 people were on anti-retroviral drugs in sub-Saharan Africa. Five years later, when President Bush left office, close to two million people were receiving these life-saving drugs. One million babies have now been born HIV-negative thanks to PEPFAR's mother-to-child interventions.

Along with tackling HIV in Africa, President Bush was instrumental in fighting malaria on the continent. By the time President Bush left office, the President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI) had halved the cases of malaria in fifteen African countries.

A common thread in these success stories is that neither program relies solely on the government. While the government has a role to play in these battles, faith-based organizations and non-governmental organizations are doing exceptional work in tandem. Federal funds can help leverage public-private partnerships and reach populations of rural Africa to improve the health and education of this epidemic. Government can’t solve the problem on its own. These organizations are vital to this fight.

As we continue to build on those incredible results, PEPFAR is increasingly transitioning from an emergency U.S.-led program to one in which recipient countries increasingly sustain the effort themselves. This reauthorization will continue the program on this path while ensuring that strong accountability and oversight mechanisms are followed to continue this success.

With the holiday season in full swing, it is important to remember that the U.S. still has a vital role in helping the less fortunate around the globe. In 2003, when signing the legislation we passed to create the program, President Bush called PEPFAR "a medical version of the Marshall Plan." It truly exemplifies the ideals for which our nation stands. I am excited that we have an opportunity to continue to build on this program’s successes.