Conflict anxiety over Pepfar programme

Ambassador to South Africa Reuben Brigety.

Ambassador to South Africa Reuben Brigety.

Published May 27, 2023


Durban - The President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (Pepfar), the US HIV-Aids project, “has resulted in substantial improvements in health outcomes in South Africa.”

But there’s concern that the future of Pepfar (and another US programme Agoa) may be in jeorpardy, following tensions resulting from recent US allegations that South Africa loaded arms on the Russian vessel, Lady R.

Pepfar is an important pillar in South Africa’s fight against HIV, as David Feldmann, spokesperson at the U.S. Embassy in South Africa, highlighted.

“With an estimated 8 million people living with HIV in South Africa, more than 5.7 million South Africans are on life-saving antiretroviral therapy,” he told the Independent on Saturday.

“While HIV incidence is declining each year, there are still about 177 000 new HIV infections annually. The HIV burden in South Africa continues to grow and has yet to reach HIV epidemic control.”

Pepfar is a partnership with the South African government, multilateral organisations and civil society that have worked together closely over the last two decades.

While the US has condemned SA for allegedly taking sides with Russia which invaded Ukraine in February last year, it seems that Pepfar will not be affected.

David Feldmann said that Washington, “looks forward to continued partnership with South Africa to work toward ending HIV as a global health threat and reducing inequalities and resulting HIV infections”.

In an effort to shield South Africa from any possible US sanctions, the DA has launched a campaign to protect the African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa), the programme which gives SA preferential access to key US markets.

Minister of Trade and Industry Ebrahim Patel said this week South Africa would push to be retained in Agoa amid the tensions between Pretoria and Washington. South Africa’s inclusion is up for renewal in 2025.

Meanwhile Professor Francois Venter of Wits University’s Ezintsha health unit said that should Pepfar be withdrawn from South Africa, it “would be disastrous for the poorest South Africans, with our health services so weakened”.

"Pepfar is the reason many millions of HIV-positive South Africans are alive today. It continues to provide vital support to much of our public health HIV programme.”

He added that he once ran a very large Pepfar programme but currently received no financial support from the programme.

The Independent on Saturday