Campus News

Speaker: US HIV/AIDS relief averted bigger crisis in Africa

One of America’s greatest accomplishments in international aid is not very well known by the American public, according to Bruce Larson, an associate professor of international health at the Boston University School of Public Health.

Larson, the guest speaker at the 2014 Darl Snyder Lecture, said U.S. efforts to provide billions of dollars in HIV/AIDS treatment in the mid-2000s made a significant difference in alleviating the catastrophic epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa that could have been much worse.

Larson delivered the lecture, “HIV/AIDS, Adult Health and Agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa: How PEPFAR Changed the Story,” in Masters Hall of the Georgia Center for Continuing Education March 4. PEPFAR, which stands for President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, was a U.S.-led effort to commit $15 billion from 2003-2008 toward HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention.

Established in 1992, the Darl Snyder Lecture, presented by the African Studies Institute, honors the former UGA administrator for his research and African service-learning programs. The African Studies Institute is part of the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. Each year, the lecture features an accomplished African studies scholar. Snyder was in attendance for the lecture and the luncheon that followed.

During the lecture, Larson argued that U.S. aid and international efforts that followed helped slow the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Larson reviewed academic research to support this message specifically through the lens of farm labor productivity in AIDS-affected areas of sub-Saharan Africa.

Larson painted a bleak picture for the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the early 2000s. By the late 1990s, AIDS was the second leading cause of infectious disease death worldwide. Much of the concentration of the epidemic was in sub-Saharan Africa.

Larson said the epidemic’s spread was poised to not just cause massive loss of life through the virus itself, but research suggests that AIDS reduces productivity in farm labor, which affects food supply and household income. Without treatment, a person with AIDS would suffer from a chronic illness for a few years and eventually die from it, unable to work or provide for his or her family.

However, the PEPFAR effort, put forth by the administration of President George W. Bush, appears to have slowed the “snowballing” epidemic of AIDS, Larson said. Treatment and prevention has helped keep productive people who might otherwise be affected by HIV/AIDS, producing food and income for their families.

While Larson warned that the number of deaths from AIDS remains high and there continues to be concerns about the future of HIV/AIDS, he said, international intervention averted a worse crisis.

“The world changed,” he said. “Things are on a phenomenally better dynamic than they would have been.”

He called PEPFAR “one of the clearly most positive things the U.S. government has done that Americans know the least about.”