PEPFAR at 20: Remarks from Ambassador Dr. John Nkengasong

U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator and Special Representative for Global Health Diplomacy Ambassador Dr. John Nkengasong provides virtual remarks on the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and its 20 years of impact at the PEPFAR at 20 event in Washington, D.C. on Feb. 24, 2023.

Below is a full transcript of Ambassador Dr. John Nkengasong’s remarks. 

I would like to thank President Bush and Mrs. Bush for the opportunity to join Secretary Blinken, Deputy Secretary Sherman, and the other distinguished guests who are participating in this important celebration of the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.

I think those of us who have been part of the PEPFAR family for 20 years marvel at the program’s remarkable impact, even though we have been working for two decades to save lives and change the course of the pandemic. When PEPFAR was announced in 2003, I was working on HIV/AIDS for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Cote d’Ivoire as a young public health expert.

Years of HIV/AIDS research, coordinated humanitarian efforts, bipartisan support from Congress and engagement from community and faith-based organizations, and the private sector, created a fertile ground for PEPFAR. And it was the bold action and compassion of President Bush that established a program that has changed the world. Truly, PEPFAR has changed the world.

After 20 years, we are here today to celebrate: 25 million lives saved, 5.5 million babies born HIV-free, over a million clients receiving pre-exposure prophylaxis to prevent HIV infection, over 20 million men, women, and children on lifesaving antiretroviral treatment, and a significant reduction in new HIV infections among females, males between 15 and 24 years of age.

In the 2003 State of the Union Address, the President called PEPFAR a work of mercy, beyond all current international efforts, to help the people of Africa. PEPFAR has lived up to that, on the continent of Africa, as well as in Asia, Central Asia, and Latin America.

PEPFAR is the largest commitment by any nation to address a single disease in the world, and it has changed the way the world responds to emerging disease threats. The public health infrastructure PEPFAR built, strengthened, and supports globally, has been leveraged for the COVID-19 and Ebola responses, as well as other emerging infectious disease responses.

Next week, I will brief about 30 head of states at the African Union Summit, to celebrate PEPFAR’s impact on the continent, and I will reaffirm the U.S.-Africa partnership, as PEPFAR-supported countries across Africa lead and commit themselves to end HIV/AIDS.

Through this continued bipartisan political leadership and will from Congress and the incremental progress each of the Global AIDS Coordinators, Randall Tobias, Mark Dybul, Eric Goosby, and Debbi Birx, achieved during their respective tenures, PEPFAR is well positioned to reach the last mile of this pandemic. This is an exciting time and I’m honored to continue the efforts that began 20 years ago to end HIV/AIDS as a public health threat by 2030.