Senate Attempts To Pass PEPFAR Measure, Faces Continued Block Over Cost; PEPFAR Issues Annual Report
Senators on Thursday attempted to pass measures (HR 5501, S 2731) that would reauthorize the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, but Republican opponents of the legislation vowed to continue to block it because of its cost, Reuters reports. Wesley Denton, a spokesperson for Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) said, "Senator DeMint objects to a huge increase in deficit spending and the lack of real oversight to ensure funds are going for medical purposes to help those in need."
On Wednesday, "progress toward passing the bill in the Senate" came after negotiators reached an agreement on funding allocation (Cowan, Reuters, 6/26). Under the agreement, "more than half" of PEPFAR funding would go to treatment. The agreement also requires that antiretrovirals used in PEPFAR programs be approved by FDA or another approved regulator agency. In addition, the agreement prevents PEPFAR funding for wealthier developing nations, such as China and Russia (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 6/26).
The bill's supporters sought to pass the legislation before President Bush leaves for the Group of Eight industrialized nations summit, which begins July 7 in Japan. The House passed its version of PEPFAR reauthorization in April (Reuters, 6/26). Bush has said he would like it to pass in Congress so he can use it at the summit to call for increased contributions from other countries (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 6/26).
In related news, PEPFAR on Thursday released a report that found the program is helping to supply antiretroviral drugs to 1.73 million people worldwide, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa, up from 50,000 in the region when the program began in 2003 (Reuters, 6/26). "Only a few years ago, many doubted whether prevention, treatment and care could ever successfully be provided in resource-limited settings, where HIV was a death sentence," Ambassador Mark Dybul, who administers PEPFAR, said. He added, "Today, while much remains to be done, the skeptics have been proven wrong. Millions of people are on life-saving antiretroviral treatment in developing countries, and many millions more have benefited from prevention and care programs ." Since the program's inception, PEPFAR has supported prevention of mother-to child-transmission for women during more than 12.7 million pregnancies. For pregnant women found to be HIV-positive, it has provided antiretroviral prophylaxis in more than one million pregnancies, preventing transmission of HIV to an estimated 194,000 infants. (PEPFAR release, 6/26).
The report is available online (.pdf).
"It will be irresponsible if PEPFAR isn't reauthorized, and successful life-saving health programs and treatments are disrupted, before the current legislation expires," a Contra Costa Times editorial says. "We urge the Senate to approve" the legislation "before its July 4 break or Aug. 11 recess," the editorial says (Contra Costa Times, 6/26).