Healthy communities start with healthy children, which is why fighting and preventing disease in communities impacted by poverty matters! The HIV and AIDS epidemic in particular has upended the lives of children globally, especially in communities without adequate healthcare. Tens of millions of people have died, communities have faced funeral after funeral, and millions of children have been left behind.
Elizabeth (shown in the photo) was one of those children. After her parents died, she was taken in by a woman named Josephine, who was already caring for several grandchildren — also orphaned by AIDS. At 63, Josephine’s only income was from the sale of homemade banana pancakes at church, not enough for all of the children to attend school or even visit the doctor.
But hope was on the horizon for children like Elizabeth. When the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) was started in 2003, it turned the tide on HIV and AIDS by providing resources for treatment and prevention. In the past 20 years, PEPFAR support has led to more than 5.5 million babies being born HIV-free to pregnant women with HIV. PEPFAR has also connected over 7.1 million orphans, vulnerable children, and their caregivers with critical care and support services, and its interventions have saved an estimated 25 million lives total.
We celebrate how PEPFAR supports children, and we dream of a future where all of them are free of this disease. But the fight isn’t over, and this critical work is at risk:
- 10 million people – nearly a quarter of those living with HIV – are still not able to access the antiretroviral therapy they need to survive and thrive.
- Only roughly half of HIV-positive children currently access treatment, which is especially disturbing because half of them will die before their second birthday if they remain untreated.
- 1.5 million people are still newly infected with HIV annually, a number that remains essentially stagnant.
- There are also alarming HIV infection rates among adolescents and young adults. An estimated 250,000 adolescent girls and young women acquired HIV in 2021, or one new infection every two minutes: 82% of them living in sub-Saharan Africa.
- The COVID-19 pandemic led to disruptions to key HIV treatment and prevention services. Additional resources are needed to regain lost ground and end AIDS.
This month, Congress is holding hearings on PEPFAR’s reauthorization — will you take a minute today to send a pre-filled email to your leaders asking them to reauthorize PEPFAR?