Donald Trump and Mike Pence have made proposals to gut the funding for the US’s pioneering HIV/AIDS prevention projects.
The bulk of the cuts are proposed to the President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which was set up by former President George W Bush to tackle the AIDS crisis, and is one of the largest providers of funding for global projects battling the spread of HIV/AIDS.
White House budget documents supplied to Congress and published by Politico this week reveal that Trump and Pence are planning to slash $242 million from the PEPFAR budget.
The White House claims the cuts will “maintain current commitments” and that the savings will come from ending “less effective HIV research and prevention activities”, but activists say the cuts will cripple global attempts to eradicate AIDS.
The budget document claims: “This reduction would achieve savings by requiring PEPFAR to begin slowing the rate of new patients on treatment in FY 17, by reducing support to low-performing countries, by reducing lower-priority prevention programs, or by identifying new efficiencies or other savings.”
Further cuts of $50 million are also set out in the document for the domestic HIV/AIDS budget, with an equal $50 million cut from the CDC’s Global HIV/AIDS program, despite previous assurances that HIV/AIDS budgets would be protected.
The document claims: “This reduction would eliminate less effective HIV research and prevention activities and accelerate reductions proposed in FY 2018.”
US government projects including PEPFAR have previously been credited with helping bring the global AIDS crisis under control, halving the death rate in countries where it is active within just five years.
The proposed cuts to PEPFAR come despite Trump’s Secretary of State Rex Tillerson describing it as “one of the most extraordinarily successful programs” during his confirmation hearing.
The billionaire had claimed: “I saw it up close and personal, and I know that PEPFAR has broadly brought so much goodwill from Africa, recognition of the goodwill and the compassionate nature of the American people.
“[PEPFAR] is one of the best projections of compassion into the continent that I think that you will ever find, and it is broadly recognized by the leaders, and more importantly, recognized by those who it touches.”
President Obama previously warned about the importance of maintaining funding for HIV/AIDS projects.
In a World AIDS Day message, the outgoing President said: “We need to do more to reach those who are at risk for contracting HIV/AIDS, and the United States is helping shape the world’s response to this crisis and working alongside the international community to end this epidemic by 2030.
“We have strengthened and expanded the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), with now more than $70 billion invested, to accelerate our progress and work to control this epidemic with comprehensive and data-focused efforts.
“With PEPFAR support for more than 11 million people on life-saving treatment and through contributions to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria — including a new pledge of more than $4 billion through 2019 — there are now more than 18 million people getting HIV treatment and care.
“Because in sub-Saharan Africa young women and adolescent girls are over eight times more likely to get HIV/AIDS than young men, we launched a comprehensive prevention program to reduce HIV infections among this population in 10 sub-Saharan African countries.
“We have also helped prevent millions of new infections worldwide, including in more than 1.5 million babies of HIV-positive mothers who were born free of HIV.”
He warned: “Although we have come far in recent decades, our work is not yet done and the urgency to intervene in this epidemic is critical… accelerating the progress we have made will require sustained commitment and passion from every sector of society and across every level of government around the world.”
When it comes to controversial policies on HIV, Vice President Mike Pence has plenty of prior experience.
As Governor of Indiana, Pence stood in the way of expanding HIV services and preventative measures like needle exchanges – until he was forced to declare a public health emergency due to a sharp rise in transmissions.
Pence famously once suggested that HIV prevention funding be drained in order to fund state-sponsored ‘gay cure’ therapy.
On a 2000 Congressional campaign website, Pence wrote: “Congress should support the reauthorization of the [HIV funding] Ryan White Care Act only after completion of an audit to ensure that federal dollars were no longer being given to organizations that celebrate and encourage the types of behaviors that facilitate the spreading of the HIV virus. Resources should be directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior.”