Experts Applaud, Question President’s Pledge to End AIDS Epidemic
Experts Applaud, Question President’s Pledge to End AIDS Epidemic

Experts Applaud, Question President’s Pledge to End AIDS Epidemic

Donald Trump announced a plan to drastically cut HIV transmission by 2030, but some scientists and nonprofits aren’t sure the administration will follow through.

Feb 6, 2019
Carolyn Wilke

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Last night (February 5) during his State of the Union address, President Donald Trump announced an ambitious goal to end the AIDS epidemic in the US by 2030. Responses from scientists and nonprofit groups ranged from enthusiastic to skeptical. 

“Together, we will defeat AIDS in America and beyond,” Trump said in his speech. “My budget will ask Democrats and Republicans to make the needed commitment to eliminate the HIV epidemic in the United States within 10 years.”

However, Trump did not provide details on the plan, including the amount of money he would request, where it would come from, and what exactly might be done. Soon after his address, the Department of Health and Human Services released a factsheet about the plan, Science reports.

“There were high expectations that the president would use this opportunity to announce something bold on HIV in the U.S.,” Jen Kates, Kaiser Family Foundation’s vice president and director of global health and HIV, tells STAT. “Without this detail, it is hard to say what this will mean for truly making a difference on HIV.”

Some groups pointed out ways that the administration’s policies have hurt people with AIDS.

Sarah Kate Ellis, president of GLADD, which describes itself as the world’s largest LGBTQ media advocacy group, responded in a statement saying the president’s plan “has already been undermined by his own Administration’s record and rhetoric,” and that calls this gesture “empty rhetoric designed to distract from what’s really happening behind the scenes every day.”

The response from some scientists was also critical. It is not yet clear “if this is a plan and commitment to make a difference to a community of patients in need, or just another hollow promise from an administration that has not been a friend to science,” Benjamin Corb, director of public affairs for the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB), says in a statement.

The statement lists ways the administration has not supported the research community in its first two years, including cuts to funding for science and programs like the CDC’s Domestic HIV/AIDS Prevention and Research program and the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). “In short, the president’s track record does not instill confidence in this latest, aggressive initiative,” according to the statement. 

The AIDS Institute takes a more hopeful tone, however. In a statement, the nonprofit asks for more detail while urging congress to fund the plan. “While we might have policy differences with the President and his Administration, this initiative, if properly implemented and resourced, can go down in history as one of the most significant achievements of his Presidency,” Michael Ruppal, the organization’s executive director says in the statement.

Roughly 1.1 million people in the US are living with HIV. To end the epidemic, the rate of infection needs to drop, according to Science. There are several effective strategies to reduce HIV transmission, STAT reports. These include effective antiviral drugs and PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis), which greatly reduces the risk of contracting HIV. 

But there are challenges to stopping the epidemic: many people don’t know whether or not they’re infected with HIV, and some have trouble sticking with treatments, which can make them more likely to become infected and pass the virus along, according to Science. 

The administration’s strategy would focus in its first five years on communities with the highest numbers of new infections, according Politico, which first revealed Trump’s intention to include HIV/AIDS in his State of the Union address.

See “Members of Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS Fired