This Inauguration Day brings an act of compassion, outreach and bipartisanship by the Trump leadership team. The Trump administration will retain Ambassador Deborah Birx as the coordinator of PEPFAR (the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) until a successor is named and confirmed. This action was taken, I am told by administration sources, at the urging of Ivanka Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence.
It is normal during a transition for presidential appointees to write their resignation letter, clean out their desks and vacate the premises, even if no one has been chosen to replace them. An exception to that rule was important for PEPFAR. Birx is in the process of shifting resources to effective AIDS prevention efforts that will reduce the future burden of the disease, with a special emphasis on helping adolescent girls avoid infection. A gap of leadership would have slowed the momentum of the program and imposed a cost in lives.
PEPFAR was created by President George W. Bush in response to a raging epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa. It has received strong and consistent support from congressional leaders in both parties. It was expanded and ably led during the Obama years. In Africa (where the program has helped save millions of lives), almost everyone knows the name PEPFAR, even if most Americans do not. Now the Trump administration is showing genuine concern for the continuity of this lifesaving, bipartisan effort and demonstrating that there is a constituency in the White House for America’s dramatically successful global engagement on health.
I have mainly been a critic of the incoming president, but this is a very good way to begin a day of national healing.