Okay, so funding for PEPFAR and TB programs did not get top billing in tonight’s State of the Union address. With the economy still sputtering, with voters anxious about the next paycheck and angry about spiraling deficits, global health wasn’t exactly a political winner in tonight’s speech.
But President Obama still did squeeze in a mention of the issue, even specifically citing US efforts to combat HIV/AIDS, highlighting a “new initiative” against bioterrorism and infectious diseases, and articulating a commitment to strengthening “public health abroad.” Obama’s quick rhetorical nod came amid deep worry among HIV experts and activists about this Administration’s commitment to maintaining scale-up of treatment for AIDS–anxiety that was only deepened today by some news out of South Africa.
Here’s what Obama said tonight about America’s role in foreign aid in general and global health in particular:
“That is the leadership that we are providing – engagement that advances the common security and prosperity of all people. We are working through the G-20 to sustain a lasting global recovery. We are working with Muslim communities around the world to promote science, education and innovation.
We have gone from a bystander to a leader in the fight against climate change. We are helping developing countries to feed themselves, and continuing the fight against HIV/AIDS. And we are launching a new initiative that will give us the capacity to respond faster and more effectively to bio-terrorism or an infectious disease – a plan that will counter threats at home, and strengthen public health abroad.
As we have for over sixty years, America takes these actions because our destiny is connected to those beyond our shores. But we also do it because it is right.” (For full text, click here.)
These few words were welcome, particularly coming on the heels of a disconcerting story about of South Africa today, in which a US official warned of deep cuts to US global AIDS funding.
“US government funding is going to come down dramatically over the next five years,” warned Dr Roxana Rogers, USAID South Africa Health Team leader last week, according to this story. “There is not a friendly feeling in the US towards more funding for HIV/AIDS,” Rogers told a meeting in Cape Town on the future of US assistance for HIV/AIDS, hosted by the US-based Council on Foreign Relations. Here’s a link to that full story.
US officials tried to quickly to “correct the record” by issuing this statement, which says the US is “fully committed to the multi-party effort led by the Government of South Africa to fight HIV and AIDS in South Africa” and adding these funding figures: “In South Africa, PEPFAR support from 2004-2009 has totaled over $2 billion (R15 billion), representing the largest contribution from PEPFAR to any country. In 2010, PEPFAR will add $559 million (R4.2 billion) to the cause in South Africa. “