Fighting AIDS in the Time of Trump

July 4, 2017 | Revolution Newspaper |


From a reader:

This June marked 36 years since the first cases of AIDS were recorded in the medical literature. As a result of the work of medical professionals, researchers, public heath officials, and brave and dedicated activists who fought for treatment and against stigmatization, life-saving drugs have been developed, and HIV/AIDS is no longer a death sentence. (HIV is the name of the virus that causes AIDS.) In fact, there is no reason that AIDS could not be eliminated—except for the obscene social and economic conditions in the United States and worldwide. Trump and his administration will greatly expand the already devastating toll that HIV/AIDS is having both in the U.S. and worldwide, perhaps causing over one million additional deaths and untold suffering.

A Genocidal Epidemic

While there has been progress in AIDS treatment and prevention in the U.S., HIV/AIDS is taking a devastating toll among certain sections of the population, especially Black gay and bi-sexual men and those who live in states in the Deep South (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas).

Rates of HIV Diagnosis per 100,000 people

Credit: Twitter/ @DCReportMedia

Last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) predicted that if current rates continue, one in two African-American gay and bisexual men will be infected with the virus. Commenting on this, an article in the New York Times Magazine noted, “To offer more perspective: Swaziland, a tiny African nation, has the world’s highest rate of H.I.V., at 28.8 percent of the population. If gay and bisexual African-American men made up a country, its rate would surpass that of this impoverished African nation—and all other nations.” (“America’s Hidden HIV Epidemic” by Linda Villarosa, June 6, 2017)

In Jackson, Mississippi, 40 percent of all gay and bisexual men are living with the HIV virus, according to the Times article. In a time where there are life-saving drugs that can prevent almost all AIDS-related deaths, 2,952 people in the Deep South died with HIV as an underlying cause in 2014, according to an analysis from Duke University. Among Black men in this region, the HIV-related death rate was seven times as high as that of the U.S. population at large.

Greg Millett, a senior scientist for the CDC for 14 years, now vice president and director of public policy at amfAR, the Foundation for AIDS Research, described to the New York Times how the actions of the U.S. government, especially during the administration of George W. Bush, contributed to this new stage of the epidemic: “It is no coincidence that new rates of HIV infection among gay men, especially gay black men, began to spike sharply from 2000 on, because of an anti-science campaign that allowed for little or nothing to be done for a maligned community simply due to ideology and bigotry.”

Millett told the Times that he is not optimistic about the prospects for Black men who are living with HIV/AIDS: “We are going to eventually end AIDS in the United States, but I fear it’s not going to happen for black M.S.M.,” he said, referring to men who have sex with men. “We have waited too long. With so many black gay men already infected, the horse is already out of the barn.”

“Trump doesn’t care about HIV. We’re outta here.”

On June 16, six members of the President’s Advisory Committee on HIV/AIDS publicly resigned from the committee and published an op-ed in Newsweek titled, “Trump Doesn’t Care About HIV. We’re Outta Here.” They said in their article, “The Trump Administration has no strategy to address the on-going HIV/AIDS epidemic, seeks zero input from experts to formulate HIV policy, and—most concerning—pushes legislation that will harm people living with HIV and halt or reverse important gains made in the fight against this disease.”

Citing the fact that 60 percent of people living with HIV in the United States are still unable to access the life-saving medications that have been available for more than 20 years, the former officials pointed to several of Trump’s actions as a huge step backwards in fighting the epidemic:

  • During his campaign for President, Trump refused to meet with HIV advocates.
  • Trump took down the Office of National AIDS Policy website the day he took office, and there has been no replacement for this website.
  • Trump has not appointed anyone to lead the White House Office of National AIDS Policy. This means no one is tasked with regularly bringing issues related to the HIV/AIDS crisis to the attention of the government.

Making the Epidemic Exponentially Worse

In fact, it isn’t just that Trump and his administration don’t care. By fanning racism, anti-gay, and anti-scientific attitudes, by cutting funds for research and treatment, the epidemic is being made exponentially worse.

* Stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS and the LGBT community as a whole is already widespread and is viciously promoted by Trump and others. This stigma contributes to people not being tested for HIV. This has real implications. More than 20 percent of Black gay men infected with HIV have AIDS (meaning that they are very sick) by the time they receive their diagnosis. Early diagnosis is a key factor in effective treatment, which reduces viral loads thereby reducing HIV transmission.

*Trump and Pence have called for legal and legislative actions that allow discrimination against LGBT people in the name of “protecting religious liberty.” Before becoming vice president, Pence was known as one of the most anti-LGBT politicians out there. In 2006 he said that banning gay marriage is enforcing “God’s idea.” Pence is also a supporter of conversion therapy, dangerous and discredited practices aimed at changing a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

* In 2002, Pence, backing the abstinence-only educational policies of the Bush administration, promoted the lie that condoms were not effective in preventing transmission of HIV and that he considers condoms “too modern, liberal.” 

* Intravenous drug use (shooting up) is one of the ways that HIV spreads. Trump seems to favor a “war on drugs” approach, which has proven to be cruel, racist, and ineffective. In May, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price spoke against opioid replacement therapy, such as methadone and buprenorphine, despite the overwhelming scientific evidence that these are among the most effective treatments.

* Trump’s proposed budget includes a $186 million cut in the CDC’s funding for HIV/AIDS prevention, testing and support services. Speaking of these cuts, Carl Schmid, deputy executive director of the AIDS Institute said, “We would have probably a million fewer HIV tests because of that and we don’t know how many more people will become [HIV] positive and not get the messages.” 

* As part of huge cuts to the National Institutes of Health, the Trump regime aims to slash research in HIV and AIDS by $550 million.

* The Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program provides a comprehensive system of care that includes primary medical care and essential support services for people living with HIV who are uninsured or underinsured. Trump’s budget proposes a $59 million cut to the program

* Cuts to Medicaid proposed by Trump would deny services to many of the most in need: 40 percent of HIV-positive people rely on Medicaid. The AIDS Drug Assistance Program reported more than 9,000 people in the U.S. on a waiting list to get medication to treat HIV, primarily Black and gay men in the Deep South, where Medicaid expansion was blocked. As one AIDS activist in Mississippi said of the situation if the Medicaid expansion is phased out, “The entire country becomes Mississippi.”

Phill Wilson, chief executive and president of the Black AIDS Institute, told the New York Times, “For the most vulnerable, do we end up back in a time when people had only emergency care or no care and were literally dying on the streets? We don’t know yet, but we have to think about it.”

Can all of this be described as anything other than genocide (defined by Webster as “the deliberate and systematic destruction of a racial, political, or cultural group”)?

The Global Pandemic

HIV/AIDS is a global nightmare, and the failure to address this is a major crime of the capitalist-imperialist system worldwide; 35 million people have died since the start of the epidemic. According to an article in the British medical journal Lancet (7/19/16), as of 2015, 38.8 million people are living with HIV/AIDS worldwide (and this number is steadily increasing), there are 2.6 million new infections annually, and 1.2 million people died in that year.

Of the people infected with HIV, 69 percent live in the poor countries of sub-Saharan Africa, and 91 percent of HIV-positive children are in Africa. Only about half of those infected with HIV worldwide receive life-saving drugs.

These are the conditions BEFORE Trump. “At least one million people will die in sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere, researchers and advocates said on Tuesday, if funding cuts proposed by the Trump administration to global public health programs are enacted,” the New York Times recently reported (5/23/17).

Trump has proposed cutting $800 million from the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), programs that address the AIDS pandemic. According to data compiled by amfAR, among the effects these cuts in 2018 will be:

  • 62,057 new sexual transmissions of HIV
  • 836,038 treatment interruptions among adults leading to 131,388 deaths and 258,742 children becoming orphans
  • 57,639 interruptions to treatments to prevent mother-to-child transmission leading to 7,730 children being born with HIV and 3,865 children dying before the age of two
  • 164,649 children experiencing treatment interruptions leading to 10,511 deaths

Cuts to international aid are not the only way that Trump will deepen the worldwide AIDS crisis. One of Trump’s first actions on taking office was to re-institute and make even stricter the Global Gag Rule, which denies U.S. funding to any organization that even mentions abortion to women seeking health services. This means that clinics that treat women with HIV would lose any funding if they discussed abortion as an option, even though almost all physicians would consider such a discussion necessary to inform a woman of her choices.

What Are YOU Going to Do?

Think about what all this means. Up to one million deaths worldwide. In the U.S., up to 50 percent of Black gay men becoming HIV positive, and many being denied treatment. This is not acceptable! We cannot remain silent in the face of these horrors. We need to drive out the Trump/Pence regime!




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