HIV Positive Kenyans in Trouble As Republicans Hold PEPFAR Funding Hostage

January 25, 2024

The United States government has recently implemented significant changes to the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).

In a departure from the customary five-year funding strategy, the program will now operate on an annual funding cycle.

This alteration has been influenced by Republican lawmakers who insist on prohibiting any non-governmental organizations that receive PEPFAR funds from engaging in activities that promote or provide abortion services.

PEPFAR is an initiative that was launched by President George W Bush in 2003, to help defeat HIV/AIDS. It focused its efforts in low income countries like Kenya, and for over 20 years now, has been providing free ARV treatments to millions in Kenya and around the world.

As the United States Congress grows more divided, Republicans have been threatening to cut humanitarian programs if they don’t get what they want.

In this latest move, they have demanded that the program not be used to fund NGOs that promote or provide abortion services. Notwithstanding the fact that the fund is never used that way.

John Nkengasong, the director of PEPFAR, clarified the program’s scope, stating, “PEPFAR has never been an abortion program, and will never be because the 1973 Helms amendment which restricts U.S. foreign assistance programs from funding abortion abroad.” This statement reaffirms the program’s focus on HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment rather than reproductive health services.

Impact on Kenya’s HIV/AIDS Response

  • Reduction in Funding Duration: PEPFAR’s transition from a five-year to a one-year plan.
  • Legislative Changes: The new funding plan aligns with US laws that restrict the use of funds for abortion services abroad.
  • Kenyan Dependency: Approximately 1.4 million Kenyans rely on PEPFAR funding for HIV/AIDS-related services.

Funding Challenges and Impact

  • Budgetary Delays: Republican opposition delayed the release of over Ksh 160 billion, leading to shortages in countries dependent on this aid.
  • Operational Constraints: The funding delays hindered PEPFAR officials from executing long-term plans, pushing them to rely on rolling one-year funding cycles.

In observance of World AIDS Day, celebrated annually on December 1, the Ministry of Health highlighted the critical role of communities in addressing HIV/AIDS.

The ministry’s statement emphasized, “Communities are the pulse of change in addressing the complexities of HIV/AIDS. Their collective knowledge, resilience, and advocacy drive crucial advancements in prevention, treatment, and support systems. Empowering communities isn’t merely a mantra but a fundamental approach in shaping sustainable, inclusive responses.”

This year’s theme, “Let Communities Lead,” reflects the importance of community involvement in combating the epidemic.

ARV drugs paid out of pocket are beyond the reach of many Kenyans. A monthly dose reportedly retails at Ksh5,000, a sum unaffordable to many Kenyans.

The lack of stability in the US foreign policy should be a wake up call for the Kenyan government to stand ready to step in should the US House of Representatives take the Ukraine funding route.

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