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On World AIDS Day, a look at Trump's proposed 20% cut in global AIDS funding | Opinion

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Jersey City commemorates 29th Annual World AIDS Day
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Gallery: Jersey City commemorates 29th Annual World AIDS Day

By Pete McDonough Jr.

The power and the promise of America's traditional bipartisan commitment to ambitious foreign affairs in the face of true crisis, and the breathtaking consequences of walking away from that role, can been seen here on the ground in Botswana, where more than one in five of the Southern African nation's residents tests positive for HIV-AIDS.

That's right, an estimated 22 percent of the population of this landlocked nation of 2.3 million people tests positive for HIV.  The situation takes on even more freighting scale with the finding that nearly half of the women between the ages of 25 and 34 test positive.  One-third of pregnant women in Botswana test positive for the virus.

My mission to Botswana is unrelated to the global AIDS situation and unconnected to my work at Rutgers.  I'm here on an independent consulting assignment to provide training to Botswanan journalists and others.  But you can't escape the knowledge that HIV-AIDS is everywhere.

In fact, this is pretty much ground zero for the global AIDS crisis.  It's where the battle will be won or lost.

The good news is that despite these unthinkable statistics, the situation is actually getting better.  The HIV-AIDS-related fatality rate has dropped from 6 percent in 2003 to well under 1 percent last year.  Remarkably, this year's global survey indicates that Botswana is actually meeting the UN's "90-90-90 goal" by 2020.  That goal envisions 90 percent of the country's population being tested and aware of their HIV status, that 90 percent of those who test positive are involved in antiretroviral (ARV) therapy and that 90 percent of those who are receiving ARV therapy are virally suppressed.

Projections are that by meeting the 90-90-90 targets and taking other steps, the AIDS epidemic will be managed by 2030.

The remarkable progress in Botswana, which admittedly still ranks as the third-most infected nation in the world behind Swaziland and Lesotho, came about to a great degree because the last two American president's recognized the global threat and made humanitarian and moral commitments to deal with the crisis.

In 2004 President George W. Bush initiated the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS (PEPFAR) which promotes sustainable, high-quality, cost-effective HIV-AIDS prevention, treatment and intervention.  President Obama embraced and continued the Bush initiative and since inception, the program has provided more than $750 million in support of the efforts in Botswana.

Importantly, that financial commitment has enabled Botswana to meet a milestone of diagnosing and providing lifelong antiretroviral therapy to 95 perecent of pregnant and breastfeeding women living with HIV.  Reaching that goal means that HIV-AIDS will not be passed on to the next generation as mothers raise their children.

RELATED: Sen. Marco Rubio: This World AIDS Day, we must recommit to make AIDS a disease of the past

This kind of investment and vision is what foreign affairs and foreign investment are all about.  This kind of progress is what diplomacy does.

And this kind of foreign aid, investment and diplomacy is exactly what underscores the sheer lunacy of President Trump's proposed one-third cut in foreign aid that includes a 20 percent cut in global AIDS funding.

Foreign aid and global health funding are saving millions of lives and may well be saving the world.  How's that for a number?

People around the globe are recognizing World AIDS Day this weekend with the theme My Health, My Right.  They are rightfully, but cautiously, celebrating the progress that has been made and are hopeful that we may be beating back the global threat that the AIDS epidemic once held.  

We stand at the precipice of winning a war.

So why does our president, the self-declared biggest winner of them all, want to lose one of the most important wars we have ever waged?

Pete McDonough Jr. is senior vice president of Rutgers University and has since 2001 been a consultant to the US State Department for public diplomacy.

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Source : http://www.nj.com/opinion/index.ssf/2017/12/on_worldaidsday_a_look_trumps_proposed_20_cut_in_g.html

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