WASHINGTON— Representative Eliot L. Engel, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today delivered the following remarks on the House floor in support of the PEPFAR Extension Act of 2018.
“Thank you, Mr. Speaker, I rise in strong support of this measure, and I yield myself as much time as I might consume.
“Let me, first of all, as I have so many times before, thank Chairman Royce for his leadership in advancing this life-saving legislation, as well as Representative Smith, the bill’s author. And I also want to acknowledge my friend from California, Congresswoman Barbara Lee, one of the lead sponsors not just of this bill, but of the 2003 legislation that originally authorized PEPFAR.
“She is a chair of the Congressional HIV/AIDS Caucus and a tireless champion in the fight to end HIV/AIDS, and I salute her tremendous leadership – she was talking about this when very few people were. And look at what we have accomplished.
“Fifteen years ago, the idea that we would one day talk about an ‘AIDS-free generation’ would have seemed like fantasy. At the time, this disease had killed more than 20 million people. Another 42 million were infected. And a mere 50,000 people in Africa had access to lifesaving treatments that were still relatively new.
“Enter PEPFAR—the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief—the largest commitment by any country in the world to combat a single disease. Today, thanks to PEPFAR, 14 million men, women, and children are receiving treatment. More than 85 million people were tested for HIV last year. New diagnoses among young women and girls—a particularly vulnerable population—have dropped dramatically. And more than two million babies have been born HIV-free to mothers living with HIV.
“When President George W. Bush signed PEPFAR into law in 2003, he said, and I quote, ‘We will keep our commitment until we have turned the tide against AIDS,’ unquote. I think of President Bush’s legacy, the positive force he was for PEPFAR, and to help people living with AIDS.
“The bill we’re now considering is the newest chapter in that commitment. It extends key provisions that have allowed PEPFAR to succeed. It also enables Congress to continue its oversight role, so that PEPFAR’s vital work plows ahead while we make sure taxpayer dollars are put to use efficiently and effectively.
“In my view, that oversight role has become especially important. PEPFAR thrived under the previous two administrations, and I regret that the current Administration has twice sought deep cuts to efforts to fight AIDS.
“If these cuts were enacted—and, thankfully, Congress has rejected the requests—it would set us back more than two decades. We would see the first spike in new HIV infections worldwide since 1995. It would negate the enormous work and billions invested over the past 15 years.
“At the same time, the Administration has re-imposed and expanded the Global Gag Rule—the so-called ‘Mexico City Policy.’ I think it’s the wrong approach. This approach to healthcare is denying so many people their right to comprehensive health care from providers they trust. It has ripple effects that hamper our work to combat HIV/AIDS.
“For example, a Mozambican Association for Family Development clinic tested nearly 6,000 patients for HIV over a three-month period between July and September of last year. Then the Global Gag Rule went into force and the clinic lost its funding. During the next three-month period, just 671 patients were tested for HIV—a decline of nearly 90 percent. This is not something that we should just fathom.
“For 15 years, PEPFAR has been a model of what can be achieved through bipartisan cooperation. I hope that the Administration will return to that consensus by ending its budget requests and lifting the Global Gag Rule, which evidence shows is utterly at odds with the goals of PEPFAR. We cannot have budget cuts for something like this. Only then will it be possible to accelerate the progress achieved over the last 15 years and finally realize our goal of an AIDS-free generation.
“I reserve the balance of my time.”
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