On May 10th, The New York Times published a heartrending story on the faltering fight against AIDS in Uganda — a story that has sparked a firestorm of controversy and criticism of the Obama Administration’s global AIDS strategy.
The Times identified a deep funding gap for combating AIDS in Uganda, including a freeze on new funds from the United States and a lack of commitment to AIDS spending by the Ugandan government (which evidently has no problem finding $300 million to spend on Russian fighter jets). The Times also outlined the devastating human toll this funding gap is taking on people living with — and dying of — AIDS.
Sadly, this news is not new. In March 2009, PHR invited Dr. Peter Myugenyi, Founder and Director of the PEPFAR-supported Joint Clinical Research Centre in Uganda, to Washington, DC to talk about the emerging funding gap for AIDS in Uganda. Said Dr. Mugyenyi:
After urging people to get tested and enter care, we now have to tell them there is no treatment available when they need it. We created hope and now we are returning to the days when one member of a family can get treatment and the others cannot.
It is a recipe for chaos as patients start to share doses or skip treatment altogether. I fear that we will soon start to see more drug-resistant strains of HIV and rising death rates.
As The Times notes, one year later, Dr. Myugenyi remains fearful:
Dr. Peter Mugyenyi, the hospital’s founder, helped the Bush administration form its AIDS plan and sat beside Laura Bush during the State of the Union address as it was announced.
The loss of donor interest “makes me frantic with worry,” Dr. Mugyenyi said.
He offers copies of e-mail messages he exchanged with American aid officials. One reminds him that he has been instructed to stop enrolling new patients and asks for an explanation of reports that he is treating 37,000 when only 32,000 are authorized. Another asks him not to announce publicly that his funds have been frozen.
He admits slipping pregnant women and young mothers like Ms. Kamukama into treatment slots “contrary to instructions.”
“Morally, I can’t turn them away,” he said.
This story gained traction worldwide, and was followed by a New York Times editorial, The Wavering War on AIDS, which outlined a $13 billion deficit in AIDS spending, and a series of letters to the editor, including one by PHR Global Health Action Campaign advisor Pat Daoust.
Dr. Mugyenyi won’t turn away patients. And we won’t turn away from this issue.
PHR, in conjuction with other global health groups, sent a letter to Secretary of State Clinton last week, urging her to end the AIDS funding freeze and ensure Ugandans have access to life-saving AIDS treatment.
PHR members have spent years advocating for more global AIDS funding and health programming based on science and human rights. We will continue to fight for greater global health funding, a strong US global health strategy, and to ensure people living with AIDS worldwide have access to drugs and quality care.
Want to help? Encourage your Representative to co-sponsor the Global HEALTH Act, which will provide $2 billion for health system strengthening and support a comprehensive US global health strategy, both of which will help in the fight against AIDS.