A Stanford study has for the first time evaluated the US Government's ambitious AIDS Relief program, and found that it reduced the death toll from HIV/AIDS through 2007 by more than 10 percent in some African countries.
The President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which began in 2003, was initially established as a five-year, 15 billion dollars plan.
Dr. Eran Bendavid, first author of the study, said that PEPFAR had kept people alive by effectively providing funds for AIDS treatment and care.
However, the researchers have insisted that it has had no appreciable effect on prevalence of the disease in the nations targeted in the project.
Bendavid also said that PEPFAR's role in preventing new infections was more difficult to measure.
"It has averted deaths - a lot of deaths - with about a 10 percent reduction compared with neighbouring African countries. However, we could not see a change in prevalence rates that was associated with PEPFAR," said Bendavid.
In the study, Bendavid and his Stanford colleague, Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, associate professor of medicine, gathered data on HIV mortality and prevalence as well as figures on the number of adults living with HIV in PEPFAR's 12 African "focus" countries.
They compared the figures with similar statistics for all 29 other African nations with a widespread HIV epidemic and without PEPFAR "focus" funding.
They also looked at data for the five years (1997 to 2002) leading up to the start of the program as well as the three years (2004 to 2007) following PEPFAR launch.
The researchers found that, in the years leading up the program, death rates rose in all of the countries studied.
They estimated that as PEPFAR funding became available, the death toll declined by more than 10 percent in the focus countries, compared to the control countries, with more than 1 million lives saved.
Further, it was noted that the difference in death rates was most pronounced between 2005 and 2006, during PEPFAR's third year of operation.
Of the program, he said: "It is working. It's reducing the death toll from HIV. People who are not dying may be able to work and support their families and their local economy. But he noted, "evaluating how the money is being spent, and which aspects of the program work best, could help it improve."
The study has been published in the online issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine.