The U.S. Senate voted Thursday evening to re-authorize the multi-billion-dollar President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) bill that would help prevent contraction of HIV in Africa while providing treatment to the millions of people who are already infected.
Over the course of five years, the $48 billion PEPFAR legislation aims to prevent 12 million HIV infections and treat 3 million people. It will also provide funding for tuberculosis and malaria responses.
"We commend the lawmakers who have come together on a bi-partisan, comprehensive agreement on the Global AIDS, TB and Malaria Bill providing a much-needed increase in U.S. assistance to address the needs of millions of orphans and vulnerable children affected by these epidemics," said Robert Zachritz, World Vision's director of advocacy and government relations in the United States.
World Vision is an international Christian humanitarian agency that has addressed the impact of AIDS for nearly two decades, starting with orphaned children in Uganda.
"This is crucial to ensuring uninterrupted availability of treatment, care and prevention services for affected children, women and men in hard-hit nations," he added. "Reauthorizing PEPFAR before its first round expires means the U.S. can maximize its life-saving impact in the global fight against HIV and AIDS, rather than allowing our commitment to stall."
PEPFAR, the world's largest anti-AIDS program, was initiated by President George W. Bush in 2003 with $15 billion funding for five years. Initially, Bush proposed $30 billion for the re-authorization, but grassroots support helped boost the figure to $48 billion. The first PEPFAR bill expires in September, and has enjoyed wide bipartisan support.
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) said he believes that PEPFAR "is our most successful foreign policy initiative in my lifetime. This is the most effective thing we have done to build America's prestige, esteem and respect," according to The Associated Press.
It has so far treated 1.5 million people with AIDS.
President Bush has thanked the Senate for passing the bill.
"In passing this bill, Congress has saved countless lives in a single evening," said John Bradshaw, Washington director for Physicians for Human Rights. "It is difficult to exaggerate the impact that this $48 billion program will have on people suffering in Africa and around the world from AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria."
The Senate version of the bill also contains a provision that would lift the controversial HIV travel ban, which generally prohibits HIV-positive people from entering the United States. Human rights and gay rights advocates have been fighting for more than a decade to repeal this ban.
The U.S. House will now review the Senate version of the bill before Congress sends its approved version to the President for approval.