Motlanthe calls on US Congress to maintain funding on Aids

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

There have been concerns by South Africa and the developing world in general about the US Administration's proposed cuts to the President's Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (PEPFAR) and how this could impact negatively on countries that are otherwise seeing national epidemics on the decline.

PEPFAR, initiated by former US President George Bush, is America's initiative to combat the global HIV and Aids epidemic. Since 2004, PEPFAR has committed more than $30 billion to funding for the Aids epidemic and represents the largest financial commitment by a single country to responding to HIV and Aids worldwide.

Through PEPFAR programmes, South Africa has managed to scale up its antiretroviral treatment, give HIV-positive individuals care and support, provide support to orphans and vulnerable children and offer services to pregnant women with known HIV status to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV.

"We have made the point that we think if the US were to pull back on its commitments to PEPFAR, it would set many of us back by many decades to come.

"Of course, we now leave it to the American people and leadership to respond. But we are hopeful," Motlanthe told the SA Government News Agency, shortly before he left the US.

Earlier during the day, he had addressed a Congressional Global Aids Breakfast at the US Capitol complex attended by US Senators, Congressmen and Congresswomen where he lauded PEPFAR as the largest and most successful bilateral HIV and Aids programme.

He had also made the point that at this critical moment of opportunity - when for the first time it is clear that humanity is making a significant dent on the epidemic - it was not the time for America to pull back.

Leading US pastor Rick Warren was also there to throw his support behind PEPFAR beneficiaries, telling members of Congress: "I can give you a thousand things from which to cut the budget but please do not cut PEPFAR."

The Deputy President's message was also echoed by Sir Elton John who urged members of Congress to keep US dollars flowing to the global effort to combat HIV and Aids.

"I beg the Senate to maintain its funding. You are the country that everyone looks to. Do not take your foot off the accelerator, finish this job," Sir Elton said.

There was a light moment when he departed from his prepared speech and remarked: "The feeling in this room today... is like the great feeling of the sixties. It's so apparent there is such love in this room. There is no marijuana! Well I hope not, but if so, pass it around. But no, there's no need for anything like that. What we have here is the human spirit... the power of people working together for good is an unstoppable force."

He told the people who control the purse strings of the US: "What America does for its people makes it strong. What you do for others makes you great."

South Africa and the developing world can only hope the persuasion, moral case, oratory, charm and some old-fashioned flattery employed by speakers at the breakfast meeting have worked.

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