U.S. first lady Melania Trump on Thursday announced that President Donald Trump’s administration will expand production of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) to boost the number of people benefiting from a global AIDS vaccine.
Melania Trump, who serves as the U.S. ambassador-at-large for HIV/AIDS, made the announcement in the Rwandan capital Kigali, alongside Rwandan First Lady Jeannette Kagame, during the East African Leaders’ Summit, which brought together 40 African leaders to discuss ways to accelerate national HIV/AIDS programs in the region.
The U.S. first lady said that the $50 million donation would help accelerate research into potential vaccines and expand U.S. laboratory research on pandemic drugs, and she praised Rwandan lawmakers for passing an HIV/AIDS education law that will enable efforts to better fight the disease.
“This message can only be heard loud and clear by your colleagues across the continent,” she said, addressing members of Parliament and other officials at the summit. “The next step that can be taken is not to hold back any countries from moving forward on these efforts to ensure that countries are properly prepared for the prevention and control of the disease.”
President George W. Bush’s 2008 budget included $15 billion for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which has provided more than $1 billion in support to about 40 countries since 2003. Since then, the organization has expanded its reach, now supporting 127 countries.
Rwanda was one of the nine initial recipients of funding under the Global Fund, but has used funds received over the past four years to increase testing and outreach efforts.
In a statement ahead of the announcement, Laura Essary, a communications officer at the U.S. Embassy in Kigali, said that for nearly three decades, the U.S. has worked with governments and organizations in Rwanda, Uganda, Botswana, South Africa, Ethiopia, and Zambia to reduce global HIV/AIDS infection rates.
“We will now use the funds that we provided to ensure these nations continue to lead efforts against HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria,” Essary said.
In July, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) announced that it was joining four other countries in pledging to maintain international development assistance for fighting global poverty, climate change and AIDS to keep funding levels stable while the administration seeks a series of changes to domestic and international programs.
The government received a boost in federal spending for the AIDS program in June, when Congress cleared $48 billion for fiscal year 2019 in the federal budget package.