Trump promises to end AIDS in 10 years. Experts say his policies are thwarting that goal.

Donald Trump has the support of Evangelical Christians.
Donald Trump Photo: Shutterstock

In his State of the Union address on Tuesday, President Trump reaffirmed the same commitment he made at last year’s address to eradicate AIDS in the United States by 2030.

“We have launched ambitious new initiatives to substantially improve care for Americans with kidney disease, Alzheimer’s, and those struggling with mental health,” said Trump. “And because Congress was so good as to fund my request, new cures for childhood cancer, and we will eradicate the AIDS epidemic in America by the end of this decade.”

Related: HIV transmission was going down for years. But the trend stopped.

Trump did not expand on his plans to do so, and instead immediately moved on to awarding notoriously anti-LGBTQ radio host, Rush Limbaugh, with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Limbaugh used his radio show for years to attack the government for spending money on HIV prevention and even once said that the way to stop HIV is: “Do not ask another man to bend over and make love at the exit point.”

Indeed, Congress has approved the Trump administration’s $291 million plan, “Ending the HIV Epidemic: A Plan For America,” though experts disagree on how impactful it will be.

Trump’s plan involves providing funding to both national and local initiatives that are fighting HIV, with a strong focus on the areas of the country that have the highest rates of infection. Its goal is to reduce new cases of HIV by 75% in the next five years and by 90% in the next 10.

When Trump made this same declaration last year, Vox published an article that said the goal is actually realistic.

The article, updated this year after Trump’s 2020 speech, explained what needed to be done to reach that goal, based on interviews with seven experts.

These experts said that if the Trump administration is serious about its plan, it needs to support Medicaid expansion, increase public health department funding, provide funding for people to access HIV prevention drug PrEP, protect rights for the LGBTQ community, devote more research to the social contexts that lead to the spread of HIV, utilize treatment and prevention techniques in communities that are especially at risk, and also build trust within these communities.

Some of this is being done, such as increased access to PrEP through the Department of Health and Human Services’ “Ready, Set, PrEP” program.

But the Trump Administration is also increasing barriers to obtaining Medicare and Medicaid, and its push to overturn the Affordable Care Act would prevent many HIV positive people from being able to afford health care.

Additionally, the Trump administration has proposed massive budget cuts to global AIDS eradication programs and has continued to express hostility toward the LGBTQ community.

LGBTQ people were never mentioned in Trump’s State of the Union speech. In fact, he defended “religious freedom,” an expression that is often a thinly-veiled way to allow more discrimination against the LGBTQ community.

“My administration is also defending religious liberty, and that includes the constitutional right to pray in public schools,” he said. “In America, we don’t punish prayer. We don’t tear down crosses. We don’t ban symbols of faith. We don’t muzzle preachers and pastors. In America, we celebrate faith, we cherish religion, we lift our voices in prayer, and we raise our sights to the Glory of God.”

After last night’s speech, Lambda Legal tweeted: “Trump promised to ‘end the AIDS epidemic in America by the end of this decade.’ Unlikely when you: Continue attacking affordable health care; Defund essential health programs that provide necessary care to people living with HIV; Fight to allow doctors to deny care.”

Act Up New York tweeted a GIF of Nancy Pelosi ripping up Trump’s speech, saying: “Us when Trump mentions he’s going to end the epidemic for the second time yet: murders HIV+ asylum seekers, strips Medicaid expansions, introduces funding cuts to PEPFAR, HOPWA, and the Global Fund, gives massive pharma company a tax deduction.”

Jen Kates, the director of global health and HIV policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation, told Mother Jones that the Trump Administration’s plan to eradicate AIDS is taking the right steps forward but that the work may be counteracted by Trump’s other healthcare rollbacks.

On the other hand, the Partnership to End HIV, STDs & Hepatitis, said in a statement reported by the Washington Blade that the organization is excited by the Trump administration’s “commitment to this issue and stand ready to work with the administration to end the HIV epidemic in the United States by 2030.”

“We have the tools to end HIV once and for all,” the statement continued, “but we must back it up with sound and sensible policies that expand access to stigma-free care, lift up vulnerable populations like our Black and Latinx communities, protect LGBTQ individuals from discrimination and address rising STD and viral hepatitis rates. Only then will we rise to the challenge and truly eradicate this epidemic.”

The Trump administration has not instilled much optimism in its ability to do all of this, though.

“HIV and HIV risk don’t exist in a vacuum,” Kates told Mother Jones. “All of those other steps could pose real barriers for the very same community that this initiative is trying to reach.

Note: A previous version of this article incorrectly named Cory Combs as the spokesperson for the Partnership to End HIV, STDs & Hepatitis.

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