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Forgotten health emergencies: AIDS, TB

These days, whenever we pick up a newspaper or switch on the TV, we hear about Zika and Ebola.

These diseases have been the center of attention in the media; however, lurking in the shadows are forgotten epidemics that claim more lives than both these diseases combined. More than 1.5 million people die from AIDS yearly and over 36 million people are currently living with HIV around the world.

Another scourge, tuberculosis, surpassed HIV this year as the No. 1 infectious killer, claiming 1.5 million lives — many of those deaths from HIV/TB co-infection.

Yet these deaths do not have to happen. Studies have shown that treating HIV immediately upon diagnosis allows patients to live long, healthy lives and drastically reduces transmission.

With treatment as prevention, ending the global AIDS epidemic by 2030 is a reality. We have the tools, but to reach this goal we must get antiviral treatment to every person infected with HIV immediately upon diagnosis. The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) has played a huge role in helping us to reach this goal.

PEPFAR is a U.S.-led foreign assistance program providing more than 9.5 million people with lifesaving antiretroviral treatment. Unfortunately, PEPFAR funding has been cut or remained flat since 2010, leaving us far behind the funding needed to reach the UNAIDS goal of ending the epidemic by 2030.

Our U.S. senator, Sen. Thad Cochran, has an important opportunity to use his leadership position as chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee to ensure that PEPFAR and USAID receive the necessary funds we need to end the AIDS and TB epidemic. In addition, he will be in a position to approve a supplemental bill for emergency Zika funding — an important step to ensure that the budget for important global health programs like PEPFAR are not cut in order to supply funds for Zika efforts.

We urge Sen. Cochran to use his power as the chair of appropriations to ensure that PEPFAR and USAID are fully funded to levels necessary to end the epidemics and to ensure that a Zika supplemental is passed so that that other important global health programs will not be gutted. 

If AIDS and TB remain forgotten we risk losing ground on the progress made thus far and we will face more infections, deaths and greater instability worldwide. 

Please don’t let us take a step backward, Sen. Cochran.

Shivanthidevi Gandhi

American Medical Student Association