Last week, to mark the 30th anniversary of World AIDS Day, the vice president announced a historic investment of $100 million of new resources to expand its engagement with faith-based organizations and communities of faith that are serving on the front lines of our fight against HIV/AIDS through PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. Over the past 30 years there has been remarkable progress in slowing the rate of infection across the globe. But with this progress, public attention to this epidemic, especially among Americans, has declined in recent years. And yet millions of people around the world are still desperately in need of education, resources and advocacy for testing and treatment. With increased awareness of the work that still needs to be done, we can make HIV/AIDS a thing of the past.
More than 36 million people worldwide – including 1.8 million children – are still living with HIV/AIDS. Approximately 5,000 new cases are contracted every day, and 1 million lives are lost each year. Over two-thirds of people living with HIV are in sub-Saharan Africa, where three in four new infections are among adolescent girls aged 15-19. Significant and lasting change can be accomplished by mobilizing churches and communities. The church has a critical role in helping to get people tested and treated. These efforts can prevent the transmission of HIV between couples, mothers and their unborn or newly born infants and youth. Additionally, delaying the age of sexual debut can be an important tactic in HIV prevention among youth.
Through our Mobilizing for Life campaign, which began in Rwanda almost twenty years ago, World Relief staff and volunteers have trained church leaders on HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and counseling in 14 countries. Our work with HIV/AIDS has had a tremendous impact in reducing stigma, caring for people living with AIDS, mobilizing youth to make wise choices about sex, encouraging mutual faithfulness in marriages, testing and treatment among couples, and training parents and church leaders to engage in advocacy and education to fight against the HIV virus in their communities. World Relief is working at root concerns of family and couple protection and is strengthening families in a program known as Families for Life. The goals are to enhance the value of women and girls, reduce partner violence, and support behaviors among couples that reduce HIV transmission. World Relief’s efforts have reached over three million people with HIV and AIDS prevention and care.
Much of this progress has been catalyzed by Ambassador Deborah Birx, M.D., and her team at PEPFAR. Through medical advances in testing and treatment, and by bringing skill and scale to this global issue, PEPFAR has already saved a remarkable 17 million lives and in 15 years has made the United States the world’s leader in responding to the global HIV/AIDS crisis.
In addition, as a result of the PEPFAR program, over 2 million babies have been born HIV-free to mothers living with HIV. And this year, for the first time, the latest PEPFAR data also show significant declines in new HIV diagnoses among adolescent girls and young women.
The compassion of the American people is extended and amplified through the engagement of faith-based organizations, which can mobilize others with efficiency and compassion in enduring ways. PEPFAR’s work has demonstrated the substantive effect that public-private partnerships can have where public resources are leveraged with local actors who have the relationships and capacity on the ground to deliver quality care.
Ultimately, local communities are the answer to enduring and sustainable change. We need to encourage local populations and governments to take ownership of any investment in the health of their communities. Our goal should be for this ownership to be increasingly and principally local and national in each country. As Mark Green, the administrator of USAID, has said, “the purpose of foreign assistance should be ending its need to exist.”
Presidents Bush, Obama and Trump have provided leadership in the global fight against HIV, and eight successive Congresses have approved funding. We urge Congress and the administration to continue to support HIV/AIDS advocacy, prevention and treatment funding. The progress has been substantial, but growing populations present a growing risk of HIV prevalence around the world.
We should honor those who have lost their lives to AIDS by carrying a message of hope and prevention across the globe. And we can’t let up our efforts until all needing help receive it, and there is not one more new infection.
Scott Arbeiter’s proven marketplace skills, pastoral experience, passion for mission and history with World Relief uniquely equip him for his role as President of World Relief. Scott was a partner at Arthur Andersen serving in a variety of functions over his seventeen-year marketplace career. In 2001, Scott resigned from the partnership to serve at Elmbrook Church in Milwaukee, where he became Lead Pastor. Scott has also served on World Relief’s Board of Directors for nearly a decade, including three years as Chairman. After finishing his term on the board in 2015 Scott became a consultant and advisor to World Relief Leadership. Scott has been married to Jewel for thirty-three years and together they have raised three daughters, Kelsey, Jacquelyn, and Karis, all of whom have grown to love and serve Christ in their own remarkable ways.