U.S. Senate Committee on Judiciary

02/26/2024 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 02/26/2024 18:33

Durbin Slams Republicans for Continuing to Delay Reauthorization of PEPFAR


Durbin Slams Republicans for Continuing to Delay Reauthorization of PEPFAR

In a speech on the Senate floor, Durbin called out Republicans' hypocrisy for advocating for 'pro-life' policies while blocking PEPFAR funding that would save the lives of those impacted by HIV/AIDS

WASHINGTON - U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) today delivered a speech on the Senate floor calling on his Republican colleagues to stop delaying the reauthorization of the President's Emergency Plan forAIDS Relief (PEPFAR), a Bush-era program that has saved more than 25 million lives worldwide in conjunction with its companion effort, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria. In his speech, Durbin spoke about the importance of programs built to support nations in Africa, including PEPFAR, mobility efforts, and clean water and sanitation initiatives.

"Over the recess that just concluded, I had a chance to visit South Africa in an Aspen Institute conference to discuss the future of that continent. With so much of the world's attention on Ukraine… and the Middle East, as it should be, we often forget the importance of this dynamic and challenging African continent with nearly one out of five of the world's population, a percentage that will increase greatly this century," Durbin began. "During my time in Congress, I've tried to advance several efforts to foster more engagement in Africa, including support for funding to address AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria through the Global Fund and PEPFAR as well as mobility programs, clean water, and sanitation. In fact, Chicago-based World Bicycle Relief is helping lead some of the most innovative mobility programs that help get kids to school and health care workers to visit rural remote areas."

Durbin continued on, highlighting the bipartisan effort behind the creation of PEPFAR during the Bush Administration.

"I didn't agree with President George W. Bush on many things, but I want to give him credit for making the United States a leader in stemming the HIV/AIDS pandemic in some of the poorest parts of the world, including Africa," Durbin said. "President George W. Bush's response was known as PEPFAR... It worked. PEPFAR and its companion effort, the Global Fund, dramatically curtailed the AIDS epidemic ravaging many parts of the world, including much of Africa, saving more than 25 million lives."

At one point, AIDS was killing more than two million people per year globally and leaving 14 million orphans in sub-Saharan Africa. Life expectancy in the most affected countries dropped by 20 years. With the creation of PEPFAR and the Global Fund Programs, those with AIDS were provided with retroviral drugs that allowed them to live healthier lives while preventing the spread of the disease through childbirth.

Despite the program's proven need and effectiveness, House Republicans are continuing to block the reauthorization of PEPFAR under the fabricated assertation that the program funds abortion access in foreign countries.

"It is bewildering to me. I can't understand this. We're presently engaged in a political debate on Capitol Hill as to whether PEPFAR was a good program. Extremists are arguing that we shouldn't reauthorize this historic lifesaving program when people are still dependent on these drugs to survive from day to day and week to week," Durbin continued.

As Durbin pointed out, even former President Bush has called out the hypocrisy in Republicans' blockade in an opinion piece published in the Washington Post.

"President Bush wrote an op-ed urging PEPFAR reauthorization in theWashington Post in which he quoted his late speechwriter and PEPFAR champion Michael Gerson as follows, 'What definition of pro-life does not include saving millions of lives from preventable disease and death?'" Durbin said. "Bush went on to note, 'We are on the verge of ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic. To abandon our commitment now would forfeit two decades of unimaginable progress and rather further questions about the worth of America's words.'"

Durbin concluded his speech by urging his colleagues to recommit to ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic for good, calling on them to immediately reauthorize PEPFAR.

"I agree, and call on my Republican friends to help reauthorize this historic, bipartisan lifesaving effort without any further delay," Durbin concluded his speech.

Video of Durbin's remarks on the floor is available here.

Audio of Durbin's remarks on the floor is available here.

Footage of Durbin's remarks on the floor is available here for TV Stations.