On June 5, 1981, the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report reported that five seemingly healthy young gay men were diagnosed with an infection that would typically affect only individuals with substantial damage to their immune system. As similar cases cropped up, national and international attention soared, and the scientific and public health community mobilized to ascertain the scope and root of this anomaly. Eventually, the causal factor was given the name AIDS.
This month marks 30 years since the first cases of AIDS were reported in the United States. After scientists identified and isolated HIV, and confirmed it caused AIDS, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) began its HIV/AIDS development program. Starting in 1986, USAID’s work in this field has been ambitious and cutting edge, showcasing the best of American scientific ingenuity and demonstrating core American values.
In the 1980s and 1990s, we launched prevention, care and treatment programs through our missions around the world using approaches that fit within the social context of each country and targeted the most vulnerable populations. The proliferation of the disease across sub-Saharan Africa prompted us to intensify our focus on this region. In 2000, USAID convened the first agency-sponsored international meeting on male circumcision and HIV prevention. We also began some of the first prevention of mother-to-child transmission programs with the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation.
We quickly realized fighting this disease would require more than just new medication and care. In 2001, we forged a partnership with the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) to invest in research and development for an effective vaccine. To date, IAVI has made a number of groundbreaking discoveries, including several potent new antibodies to HIV, adding more vitality to this game-changing effort. In the same year, USAID commenced three pilot trials of antiretroviral treatment in Kenya, Rwanda, and Ghana.
In 2003, President Bush announced an unprecedented initiative to ramp up the U.S. Government’s commitment to HIV/AIDS in the developing world. Today, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) continues to be the largest bilateral AIDS program in the world, touching millions of lives through prevention, care, and treatment. Through our global network of missions and partners, USAID currently implements more than half of all PEPFAR programs.
Through PEPFAR, USAID has contributed to saving lives through a variety of voluntary prevention interventions, counseling, testing and care programs. Today, more than 3.2 million people receive lifesaving treatment through the support of the American people.
Building on the strength of PEPFAR and other successful US global health initiatives, USAID is working at an interagency level to ensure President Obama’s Global Health Initiative replicates and amplifies the success of our HIV/AIDS programs through a continued focus on health system strengthening and investments in innovation. Our award-winning Supply Chain Management System project has provided more than $750 million in HIV/AIDS commodities and saved $700 million by pooling procurements of generic AIDS drugs. We also funded the CAPRISA 004 Trial, which was completed last summer and provided the first-ever proof of concept that a microbicide can reduce risk of transmission from men to women.
Our work is far from done. We have a shared responsibility as a global partner to save lives by focusing on smart investments. The generosity of the American people has made sustained progress against this deadly disease possible. Closing the chapter on HIV/AIDS will require a steadfast focus on remaining gaps and challenges as we chart the way forward.