FORBES | This week, former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle and I released a report recommending a policy of strategic health diplomacy, inspired and informed by the success of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). The report’s publication was announced at a conference in Washington, DC, where many of the architects of PEPFAR came together to advocate for a foreign policy approach that incorporates health care and humanitarian aid. The PEPFAR program has provided access to anti-retroviral treatments to more than 7.7 million men, women, and children worldwide. It has prevented transmission of the virus to 95% of infants with infected mothers, offered care and support to millions of orphans, and trained over 140,000 new health care workers. It is by all accounts a major success. Yet it took many years for us to get to this point.
When I first became acquainted with the AIDS virus, I was a surgical resident in Boston in 1981. At that time it was still an unexplained illness with only a few documented cases. I never would have predicted the scourge that HIV/AIDS would become. Back then, we thought we would have a cure within a few short years.
Instead, AIDS was responsible for the deaths of 3 million people in 2003 alone, and 40 million people lived with AIDS or HIV at that time. As a surgeon, the emergence of AIDS spurred radical changes in surgical practices. In the early years, when I operated on a patient with HIV or AIDS, I wouldn’t require my assistants to scrub in due to the risks.