Making the World Safer from Health Threats

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Four African health care workers smile, leaning over a small table in a hospital room.
Health workers in Mozambique

Making the World Safer from Health Threats

As we prepare to mark World Health Day on April 7, we celebrate the tremendous contributions of the United States government – and the American people – in creating a more secure world safe from disease through programs like the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).

Today, thanks to American leadership and the generosity of the American people, much of Africa has a far more robust health care capacity and infrastructure to not only address HIV/AIDS, but also to prevent, detect, and respond to other public health threats. This is largely because of PEPFAR.

Over the past 15 years, PEPFAR has accelerated countries’ progress toward controlling their HIV/AIDS epidemics and bolstered their ability to swiftly confront Ebola, avian flu, cholera, and other outbreaks. PEPFAR continues to invest strategically in the systems critical to global health security, informing and improving the U.S. response to unforeseen health crises. These efforts ultimately protect American lives and America’s national security.

The health systems supported by PEPFAR are on the front lines of “detect” within the global health security agenda. For example, during an Ebola outbreak in 2014, Nigeria was able to quickly curtail the virus due in part to health systems strengthening provided by PEPFAR. The same was true in Uganda, which faced Ebola outbreaks in 2007 and 2012, but rapidly contained them – also with the help of PEPFAR investments.

PEPFAR has enhanced surveillance and health information systems as well as laboratories that are critical to effective and efficient health care delivery. In 2017 alone, PEPFAR spent nearly $600 million on horizontal, above-site health systems strengthening, including nearly $100 million for laboratory systems. PEPFAR-supported laboratories respond to current infectious diseases, including HIV, and ensure the most advanced nucleic acid techniques are available to let a mother know if her baby is born HIV-free or if immediate treatment is needed to save the life of an HIV-positive baby. These same labs and techniques can also be used to diagnose tuberculosis (TB) or other new disease threats. 

To date, PEPFAR has trained nearly 250,000 health care workers to provide HIV prevention and treatment services. These same staff also address maternal and child health, TB, malaria, immunizations, and emergency disease outbreaks – forging a lasting infrastructure for partner countries to meet the health challenges of today and tomorrow.

With strong bipartisan leadership spanning three administrations, the U.S. government, through PEPFAR, supports lifesaving HIV treatment for more than 13.3 million people, has enabled more than 2.2 million babies to be born HIV free to HIV-positive mothers, and assists more than 6.4 million orphans, vulnerable children, and their caregivers to ensure the next generation can thrive.

Our efforts have also reduced new HIV diagnoses by 25-40 percent among adolescent girls and young women in 65 percent of the highest-HIV-burden communities implementing our DREAMS (Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-free, Mentored, and Safe) public-private partnership in 10 African countries.

Recent PEPFAR-funded surveys show that up to 13 high-HIV-burden countries are poised to achieve epidemic control by 2020 with PEPFAR’s assistance. Accelerating progress in these countries will produce the roadmap to reach epidemic control in the more than 50 countries where PEPFAR works.

A principal factor in our success: We harness the latest data and science to direct resources where the HIV/AIDS epidemic is the largest, the need is highest, and resources are most efficiently used to have the greatest impact per each dollar invested. And we look every quarter at our outcomes and costs to continuously improve our work. That is why PEPFAR is widely viewed as one of the most effective and efficient U.S. foreign assistance programs in history.

In 2018, PEPFAR is marking 15 Years of Saving Lives through American Generosity and Partnerships with our year-long #PEPFAR15 campaign. #PEPFAR15 celebrates PEPFAR’s remarkable efforts and highlights that, for the first time in modern history, we have the opportunity to control a pandemic without a vaccine or a cure, laying the groundwork for eventually eliminating HIV. 

Above all, PEPFAR supports countries to reach development goals that advance our common interests and values, reinforce stability in key regions, and boost U.S. economic opportunities. On World Health Day – and every day – PEPFAR is deeply committed to tracking and maximizing the performance of every dollar so we can create healthier populations and a more secure and prosperous world.

About the Author: Ambassador Deborah L. Birx serves as the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator and U.S. Special Representative for Global Health Diplomacy at the U.S. Department of State.

Editor's Note: This entry also appears in the U.S. Department of State's publication on Medium.