Ten Years Later, 'Medical Marshall Plan' Has Saved Millions of Lives

A lot can happen in 10 years. A decade ago, no one had heard the words 'iPhone' or 'Twitter' and Facebook was an idea in a college dorm room. It's hard to imagine life without them today. In Africa, the decade also brought new technology that didn't just change lives but saved them. In 2003, an AIDS diagnosis in sub-Saharan Africa was a death sentence. Just 10 years later, with high-tech drugs, courageous political commitment and funding, AIDS patients -- millions of them -- receive treatment and live long, fulfilling lives

That's in large part thanks to legislation that was enacted 10 years ago. On May 27, 2003, President George W. Bush signed into law the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the largest commitment of funds by any one nation in human history to combat a single disease. Flanked by Democratic and Republican leaders, President Bush called the initiative, "a medical version of the Marshall Plan."

A decade later, PEPFAR has exceeded even the most optimistic expectations of those involved in its creation and implementation. In partnership with The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Malaria and TB -- the multi-lateral financing mechanism set up around the same time --PEPFAR has transformed the fight against HIV/AIDS and changed the way we think about humanitarian assistance.

The tide has now turned against this killer disease to such a point that the beginning of the end of AIDS is possible within our lifetime. Consider, in 2002, only 50,000 Africans were receiving life-saving AIDS treatment. Today, more than 7 million HIV positive people on the continent are being kept alive, thanks in large part to America's commitment through PEPFAR and the Global Fund to getting safe, effective medications to those in need.

Beyond treatment, we have also had success in preventing the transmission of HIV/AIDS, especially among children. It is estimated that 600,000 new infections have been averted by antiretroviral treatments to HIV-positive pregnant women since 1995, the vast majority since 2005. In fact, transmission of the disease from mother to child can now be prevented in more than 95 percent of cases, giving rise to the achievable goal of ensuring that virtually no child is born with HIV/AIDS by 2015. Though we have not seen enough progress on prevention efforts, with more than 2.5 million people still newly infected each year, new prevention tools will enable programs like PEPFAR to be even more effective in the years to come.

To the lasting credit of our nation, Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle have supported PEPFAR from the beginning. Then-Democratic Senator John Kerry authored legislation with Republican Senator and medical doctor, Bill Frist, laying the groundwork for PEPFAR, along with so many others. President Obama has supported and expanded the program, using it as the anchor for his Blueprint for an AIDS-Free Generation.

Moreover, an impressive cross-section of Americans - conservatives, liberals, students, union members, business leaders, church officials and others - have joined organizations like The ONE Campaign to lend their support to American initiatives that fight global diseases like HIV/AIDS. In a world more interconnected than ever, they understand that helping to create healthier societies is not only the right thing to do morally, but contributes to America's economic and national security interests. Our military leaders say the fight against extreme poverty and disease is one of the best ways to tackle the root causes of violence and instability.

In this time of government budget cuts, tough choices are being made and U.S. humanitarian programs and investments might be a tempting target for lawmakers. However, at less than 1 percent of the federal budget (global health programs are one-tenth of 1 percent!), the costs of scaling back or cutting such programs would be devastating, just at a moment when we have the disease in retreat in many parts of the world.

President Bush took on the challenge of stopping AIDS from killing men, women and children on such a massive scale because he believed it was a moral imperative for a great nation like the United States. He and bipartisan champions in Congress knew that committing resources on this scale required clear targets and the ability to track progress on the ground. Those who rallied behind PEPFAR expressed a fundamental value -- that where you live should not determine if you live. As we look back on a decade of work, we can say proudly that those resources were not only effective, but transformational to individuals and communities alike. With a continued dedication of resources and political will that builds on lessons learned from PEPFAR's first 10 years, we can defeat HIV/AIDS once and for all.