America's Global Health Programs at a Crossroads

Dr. Peter Mugyenyi with a young patient in Uganda. (AFP 205)
Dr. Peter Mugyenyi with a young patient in Uganda. (AFP 2005)

At the State of the Union address in 2003, President Bush made an announcement that changed the course of global AIDS. As the first non-American to attend the State of the Union of the guest of the First Lady, Uganda AIDS pioneer Dr. Peter Mugenyi, who will join PHR in DC this month, heard Bush lay down a mandate for the US—and a vision of hope for his country:

Today, on the continent of Africa, nearly 30 million people have the AIDS virus, including 3 million children under the age of 15. There are whole countries in Africa where more than one-third of the adult population carries the infection. More than 4 million require immediate drug treatment. Yet across that continent, only 50,000 AIDS victims—only 50,000—are receiving the medicine they need… A doctor in rural South Africa describes his frustration. He says, "We have no medicines; many hospitals tell people, 'You've got AIDS. We can't help you. Go home and die.'" In an age of miraculous medicines, no person should have to hear those words.

On that night in Washington DC, President Bush asked Congress to put $15 billion over five years into the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR. As President Bush said in his address,

Seldom has history offered a great opportunity to do so much for so many.

As Dr. Mugyenyi, the Executive Director of the Joint Clinical Research Center (JCRC)—a center of excellence for AIDS treatment, prevention, and research in Sub-Saharan Africa—heard these words, he felt an incredible sense of hope and relief.

Dr. Mugyenyi returned to Uganda in the late 1980’s after studying and practicing medicine abroad to find that HIV was destroying thousands of lives in his beloved country. Even though life-saving medicine was available in wealthy countries, it was out of reach for Ugandans. As Dr. Mugyenyi says in his 2008 book, Genocide by Denial, the vast majority of his patients during these days “died not just of AIDS but of poverty.”

PEPFAR changed this picture, bringing AIDS treatment to millions who could not afford it in Sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean. And Dr. Mugyenyi has been there, every day, providing treatment, research and prevention programs for thousands of Ugandans who previously had no chance at survival.

Now, in the midst of a global financial crisis, the US is considering scaling back on its commitments to global health programs like PEPFAR. PHR is very pleased to be hosting Dr. Mugyenyi in Washington DC from March 16-20 to raise awareness about the impact that a scaling back of commitments would have on the lives of millions in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Dr. Mugyenyi and hundreds of other African doctors know first hand what the outlook will be for their patients if this happens. We invite you to follow Dr. Mugyenyi’s visit to Washington DC on this blog over the coming weeks to learn more about why we must follow through on our commitments to global health and HIV/AIDS.

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