PEPFAR and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria have become the world’s most powerful force in the fight against HIV/AIDS, working together to drastically increase antiretroviral coverage, build capacity, and save and improve millions of lives. The collaboration between the two organizations alone has raised ARV coverage in developing nations from near zero in 2003 to 5.6 million people receiving ARVs as of December 2011.
I had the opportunity to travel to Zambia, to get a first-hand look at how the two programs work together on the ground. While there, I visited St. Theresa Mission Hospital in Ndola — run by the Churches Health Association of Zambia (CHAZ) and supported by both PEPFAR and the Global Fund.
Established in 1960 as a small tuberculosis and leprosy clinic, St. Theresa serves upwards of 160,000 people living with HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. The hospital chiefly relies on an all-volunteer network of home-based care workers, volunteers who travel long distances to ensure patients continue their treatments and maintain healthy lifestyles.
The dedication of these volunteers is inspiring, and their impact has been nothing short of incredible. It is due in large part to their commitment that St. Theresa now provides ARV treatment to 1,615 people living with HIV.
There is so much to applaud in their work, but when I sat down with the hospital staff and volunteers, the first thing they wanted to convey was their thanks. Thanks to the Global Fund and to Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama for allowing them to deliver lifesaving medicines to those in need.
The folks at the clinic were particularly eager to highlight how the support of both PEPFAR and the Global Fund has helped to drastically reduce the stigma against those with HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis — a huge part of battling these diseases. When home-based health workers first began visiting patients, the sick often had been rejected by villagers and their families and moved to separate shacks. Now, communities have witnessed patients literally brought back from the dead through lifesaving medicines.
Those who were sick can once again lead active and economically productive lives — fetching water, raising crops, and caring for their children and families. Seeing patients resurrected in this way has fundamentally changed the way villagers in and around Ndola view those afflicted with tuberculosis or HIV/AIDS. Patients who once were considered a blight and a threat are now seen as humans who can be helped back to life.
Finally, the health workers at St. Theresa described the interrelated nature of PEPFAR and Global Fund programs. Through the years, PEPFAR has supported antiretroviral therapy at the clinic, while the Global Fund has provided additional resources for the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV, care for orphans, treatment for HIV-tuberculosis co-infection and nutritional supplements for patients with HIV. One CHAZ member said that PEPFAR’s and the Global Fund’s and activities “fit together like a jigsaw puzzle.”One program could not be successful without the other.
Hand-in-hand, the Global Fund and PEPFAR are achieving outstanding results — not just in Zambia, but in each of the more than 30 countries in which they work together. In concert, the two programs are creating a long-term, sustainable response to the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Continued robust support for both will be the key to reaching an important public health goal: an AIDS-free generation.