PEPFAR does not support abortion, country director says

US Ambassador to Kenya Meg Whitman, Health Cabinet Secretary Susan Nakhumincha and PEPFAR Country Director Brian Rettmann during Pepfar's 20th Anniversary celebrations in Nairobi on November 28, 2023. [Courtesy, US Embassy]

The US-funded President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief-PEPFAR has hit back at a section of politicians over claims it is funding abortion.

Country Director Brian Brettmann told The Standard the remarks were misguided on what activities the NGO does across the country.

In June this year, some ten MPs wrote a letter to the US House of Representatives and Senate cautioning against reauthorization of the funding in 2023 on moral grounds.

The MPs reportedly wrote the letter on June 6, 2023, saying the "funding is supporting so-called family planning and reproductive health principles and practices, including abortion, that violate our core beliefs concerning life, family, and religion".

PEPFAR is the US government’s global effort to combat HIV and the largest global health programme devoted to a single disease.

It is credited for saving lives, preventing HIV infections, and accelerating progress toward achieving HIV/AIDS pandemic control across the country.

The funding was started in 2003 and has over the years been modified and extended thrice with funding for the third circle in Kenya in the 2023 financial year being over $347 million (Sh50.2 billion).

Speaking during the 20th anniversary held in Nairobi, Rettmann said the congress received several letters from individuals across the African continent seeking stoppage to the reauthorization of the funds.

“The letters contained false information about programmes that we do not support. Our core objective remains to support programmes that promote lives and help individuals stay on treatment for a longer period of time,” said Rettmann.

He said reauthorization of the funding is based on a review of a five-year plan undertaken.

“We have received funding for the last 20 years and reauthorization of the fifth round is underway. We are hopeful we shall receive the funds because the congress has stayed committed to ensuring these programmes are funded,” he said.

In August this year, 50 groups and organizations working on HIV and human rights in the country wrote a protest letter to National Assembly Speaker Moses Wetangula calling out on the MPs.

President William Ruto is welcomed by Health Cabinet Secretary Susan Nakhumincha at the Kenya National Library Services during the celebrations of Pepfar's 20th anniversary on Nov 28, 2023. [Courtesy, US Embassy]

In the letter, the groups termed the claims as "treacherous" and expressed concern that MPs are involved in a scheme to spread misinformation about the impact, utility and focus areas of the funds in Kenya.

"Their action may result in PEPFAR funding being discontinued in Kenya which would jeopardize the lives of over 55 million Kenyans who benefit from HIV programmes supported by PEPFAR as well as more than 1.6 million people living with HIV in Kenya," read part of the letter.

Rettmann further said there is however need for all development partners to realign their programmes to go beyond HIV prevention and treatment in line with President William Ruto’s UHC agenda.

This he said will ensure Kenya sustains itself in terms of financing such programmes in the years to come.

“For the last 20 years Kenya has done tremendously well in terms of suppressing the virus, Currently, there are about 1.3 million people with HIV who are on treatment. This represents 94 per cent of the total population that is living HIV,” he said.

According to him, with such initiatives like Pepfar had played a key role in reducing the rate of new infections and deaths.

“We have moved from the days when HIV/AIDs was a pandemic and many people would die due to despair and now we are at a stage where people are living and with it and can live for the rest of their lives with just a pill a day,” said Rettmann.

According to him, they have so far spent over 8 billion dollars in trying to bring as many people as possible to start treatment.

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