“PEPFAR will be remembered as this century’s Marshall Plan” noted Rep. Jim McDermott at a briefing today. McDermott, D-Wash, one of the co-chairs of the Congressional AIDS Caucus, was a lead off experience at today’s Health Affairs briefing on the publication’s July edition, which is devoted exclusively to coverage of the President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS RELIEF (PEPFAR).
McDermott recalled his work as a U.S. Department of State medical officer in 1987 in what was then Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) when the hospital he first visited there “had hundreds of people, lying on the floor, just dying.” Noting the current excitement about the possibility of an AIDS-free generation, McDermott suggested that the PEPFAR program had been transformed from a rescue program to a program that “can rid the world of a virus.”
He expressed relief that congressional committees had largely kept funding for PEPFAR intact for the next fiscal year, and added he intends to push for another 5-year authorization bill next year. McDermott also expressed frustration at some of the troubling riders in the bill — from the so-called “conscience clause” which allows some providers to avoid talking about condoms to the prostitution pledge and the needle exchange ban. “As a physician it bothers me to see health programs turned into social engineering programs,” he said. “I wish I could waive a magic wand and have them all go away.”
He concluded his remarks by noting that it is a “real irony” that as the International AIDS Conference returns to the United States for the first time in 22 years, “that we in the United States would draw back our commitment to move forward. But there is still so much to do.”