Congress passed the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) Stewardship and Oversight Act of 2013 on Tuesday, reaffirming and strengthening its commitment to reducing global HIV/AIDS. The 2013 act updates the program to require, among other changes, more collaboration between US departments to combat HIV/AIDS, to require a study of treatment providers, and to extend funding for orphans and other children left vulnerable by HIV/AIDS.

The program, which began in 2003, has supported HIV testing and counseling and antiretroviral treatment for millions of people. PEPFAR has created partnerships to support countries’ efforts to implement HIV prevention programs and care services and has focused efforts on reaching particularly vulnerable populations.

Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-IL), an original co-author of PEPFAR in 2003, praised the passage of the Act and its continued bi-partisan support. She also expressed confidence in the program. “I believed then, as I do now, that we can achieve an AIDS-free generation with the right investments, like protecting funding for programs for orphans and vulnerable children, supporting the Global Fund, and guiding the transition toward greater country ownership, while also expanding effective combination prevention programs and HIV/AIDS research,” said Lee.

Although PEPFAR has had unprecedented success in fighting HIV/AIDS globally, the problem remains staggering – particularly for women. Over half of all people living with HIV are women, and it is the leading cause of death for women of reproductive age worldwide.

Feminist Majority Foundation President Eleanor Smeal and National Organization for Women President Terry O’Neill have urged that the next leader of PEPFAR must therefore ensure that women’s rights are at the center of the U.S. response to HIV/AIDS. US Global AIDS Coordinator Eric Goosby – who led the implementation of PEPFAR – stepped down from his position earlier this month. Smeal and O’Neill have called on President Obama to appoint a woman in the past.

Media Resources: GovTrack; Congresswoman Barbara Lee 11/19/2013; PEPFAR 11/19/2013; Feminist Newswire 10/25/2013; Ms. Magazine 8/30/2013

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