Brinker Op-ed: AIDS relief plan is a testament to American leadership on the world stage

Congress must reauthorize program before the end of September

Nancy G. Brinker | The Washington Times

September 27, 2023

In the world of global health and diplomacy, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief stands as a shining example of American exceptionalism. As the deadline for reauthorization of this program, known as PEPFAR, nears on Sept. 30, Congress should recognize that it has not only been a beacon of hope for millions of people affected by HIV/AIDS but also a powerful tool for expanding U.S. power projection and influence around the world.

PEPFAR, a bipartisan initiative launched by President George W. Bush, demonstrated American leadership in the face of a global health crisis. It boldly declared that the United States would lead the charge in combating one of the most devastating pandemics of our time.

The program initially committed $15 billion over five years to provide lifesaving treatment, prevention and care to millions of people in the most affected countries, primarily in sub-Saharan Africa.

The success of PEPFAR is nothing short of remarkable. Over the years, it has provided antiretroviral treatment to over 14 million people, preventing countless deaths and improving the lives for those with HIV/AIDS. PEPFAR’s support for prevention programs, including initiatives focused on mother-to-child transmission, has significantly reduced new infections.

Its impact reaches beyond health outcomes, as it has empowered communities and bolstered health care systems in some of the world’s most vulnerable regions.

One of PEPFAR’s key strengths is its focus on partnership and collaboration. The program works closely with host countries, nongovernmental organizations and international agencies to ensure a coordinated and effective response.

This approach fosters goodwill and strengthens diplomatic ties with countries that benefit from PEPFAR’s support. It creates a foundation for broader engagement and cooperation on global issues such as public health, economic development and security.

Furthermore, PEPFAR serves as a counterbalance to other global powers, such as China and Russia, that have increasingly sought to expand their influence in the developing world.

By addressing a critical health crisis, the United States demonstrates its long-term commitment to partner nations and their well-being. This can help counterbalance geopolitical narratives that may undermine American influence.

While PEPFAR’s accomplishments are undeniable, it is crucial to acknowledge that the fight against HIV/AIDS is far from over. The program’s continued success depends on sustained funding and continued commitment. Furthermore, the lessons learned from PEPFAR can serve as a model for addressing other global health challenges and reinforcing American leadership in the 21st century.

The sustained success and implementation of PEPFAR is a testament to the United States’ ability to make a positive impact on the world stage. It not only saves lives and improves public health but also strengthens America’s influence and reinforces its status as a global leader.

As we celebrate PEPFAR’s achievements, we must also recognize the enduring value of American leadership in addressing global challenges and advancing the common good.

As a former U.S. ambassador in the aftermath of 9/11 and the founder of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, I’ve witnessed firsthand how U.S. influence is sustained and strengthened abroad through acts of charity, goodwill and philanthropy. As we reflect on its success over the past two decades, it becomes clear that PEPFAR is not just a humanitarian endeavor; it is a strategic asset that enhances American soft power and global standing.

It is in America’s interest in the face of intense geopolitical uncertainty and competition for Congress to reauthorize PEPFAR before the end of September.

Nancy Brinker served as U.S. ambassador to Hungary from 2001 to 2003, chief of protocol for the United States from 2007 to 2009, and a WHO goodwill ambassador for cancer control. She is currently the head of the Promise Fund of Florida.