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by Bob Roehr
The new head of PEPFAR, the U.S. international AIDS program, will be Eric Goosby. MD. President Barack Obama made the nomination on April 27.
The official title is Ambassador at Large and Global AIDS Coordinator. The position requires confirmation by the Senate.
PEPFAR stands for the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. Congress passed a five-year reauthorization last year that more than triples the financial commitment to $48 billion. However, most observers believe the program will see little or none of that increase because of the recession.
Goosby, 56, has made his career in HIV. The San Francisco native began treating HIV patients at San Francisco General Hospital in the early days of the epidemic. While openly gay, his work focused on the substance abuse community.
He served as the first director of the Ryan White Care Act programs in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and moved over to the Office of HIV/AIDS Policy during the Clinton administration.
Goosby returned home to found the Pangaea Global AIDS Foundation in 2001, which is affiliated with the San Francisco AIDS Foundation. Pangaea focuses primarily upon education, training and capacity building in Africa, China and Eastern Europe. Its largest benefactor has been the Clinton Foundation.
The nomination is not without controversy. When speculation began circulating earlier in the year, some noted that Goosby had defended the Clinton administration’s policy to not fund needle exchange programs, a decision that once he was out of office President Clinton admitted was wrong and not in agreement with the evidence.
Others suggested he was a weak administrator, and that was why he was moved from Ryan White to the policy office.
San Francisco activist Michael Petrelis looked at Pangaea’s public records and saw the decline in funding, from a peak of $6 million to less than $2 million, even while grants for international capacity building were burgeoning, as evidence of his limited effectiveness.
Petrelis greeted announcement of the nomination by saying, “We desperately needed a bold, a once-in-a-lifetime leader. We needed a Barack Obama for global AIDS. In Eric Goosby, we got an AIDS, Inc. hack who has paid his Democratic Party dues, but lacks the independence required to directly and immediately address the needs of millions of people living with HIV disease, and at-risk persons. May his tenure be short.”
But most applauded the nomination.
“Dr. Goosby is an outstanding choice,” said Kenneth Mayer, speaking for the HIV Medicine Association. “He’s been on the front-lines of the AIDS epidemic as a clinician and in his distinguished previous government service.”
“The U.S. needs to continue its international leadership role. That is why we are so pleased that the position has been filled, and filled with a person of Dr. Goosby’s caliber,” said Ronald Johnson, deputy director of AIDS Action.
International AIDS activist Gregg Gonsalves said Goosby faces a tough challenge in fighting for increased funding. He must protect PEFPAR “from those who seek to dilute or reverse our gains. We all will support him in this task and wish him well.”