US/World

One Million Babies Born Without HIV: Program Started Under President Bush Celebrates Global Success And Saving Millions Of Lives [VIDEO]

HIV babies
After 10 years of hard work and billions in funding for President Bush's AIDS relief program, a landmark of the one millionth baby born without HIV is cause for celebration. PEPFAR

Although many may have negative thoughts of former president George W. Bush for starting two wars halfway around the planet, it also can't be denied that his direct actions have led to saving the lives of millions around the world. This week marks the 10th anniversary of the establishment of PEPFAR (the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief), the program that took American taxpayer dollars and put them toward the massive effort of stopping the spread of HIV throughout the world, saving millions of lives in the process.

As the largest single health initiative in history, PEPFAR has saved an estimated five million lives and is celebrating its one millionth baby born to a mother who carries the virus, yet has not transmitted it to her newborn. To date, $44 billion has been spent on the program. For comparison, the U.S. Navy's new aircraft carrier is costing $26.8 billion to construct and will be one of 10 others to patrol the oceans.

The program has essentially been the Manhattan Project of the AIDS epidemic, raising hope that was integral for the program for an AIDS-free generation — a whole generation of children who won't be at risk for contracting the disease during birth, thanks to medical intervention.

The program also supports 5.1 million people with antiretroviral medications, which keep the virus at bay and reduce the chances of people spreading the disease. This number is up significantly from 1.7 million people in 2008, a threefold increase in less than half a decade. In 2012 alone, 230,000 babies had averted infection with the virus at birth because of the program. By the end of 2013, more than six million people will receive medications and over 1.5 million pregnant women living with HIV will be on medication to prevent passing on the virus to their baby.

Originally, the risk that women infected with HIV would transmit the virus to their children during birth stood at around 35 percent. With the first treatments for pregnant women, the chance dropped to 24 percent, but with new medications funded by the U.S., the chance is now close to zero. In fact, women with HIV who have babies are offered medications for life, further preventing the chance that the virus can be transmitted to less than five percent.

One of the reasons that a child could be infected, even though the newborn had not contracted the virus during birth, is the fact that the breast milk of untreated women carries a high concentration of the virus, making breastfeeding risky. Giving women these medications reduces the risk of not only the newborn contracting the virus, but also future sexual partners and future children.

The tides have certainly tipped, given that as many as 13 countries no longer see HIV as an epidemic, and productivity and economic output is increasing at staggering rates. More people in these countries are receiving medications than are being infected, which will significantly limit the spread of the virus.

"This has been a decade of remarkable progress, my friends. But obviously, our work is not done. Millions still become infected every year and millions are still dying. But we can now say with confidence something we could perhaps only have dreamed of before, as I said, and that is we can achieve an AIDS-free generation, and that is within our grasp now," said Secretary of State John Kerry yesterday at a press conference commemorating the landmark achievement.

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