On Tuesday, President Trump issued a statement in support of National HIV Testing Day. He urged people to get tested, emphasized the importance of people knowing their status, and accurately described how many people don’t know that they are positive and spreading the virus. He also lied about his administration’s support for HIV prevention and did nothing to acknowledge the populations most vulnerable to the virus.
Nowhere in the statement did Trump mention LGBTQ people or people of color, two groups still disproportionately impacted by the virus in the United States. African Americans are most affected by HIV. In 2015, there were 17,670 African Americans diagnosed with HIV, and more than half of them identified as gay or bisexual men. That same year, there were 10,509 new diagnoses among white Americans — 7,000 fewer diagnoses than among African Americans — even though there are more than five times as many white people living in the country. Trump made no effort to recognize these disparities or speak specifically to these populations.
In fact, Trump proposed cutting nearly a fifth of the large sum of money the United States spends helping supply some 11.5 million people worldwide with antiretroviral drugs. Researchers estimated that those cuts would lead to at least one million people dying in sub-Saharan African and elsewhere. The administration further proposed cuts in funding for contraceptives and other family planning efforts, which would make women in developing nations even more vulnerable.
Earlier this month, six members of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA) resigned in protest. They explained:
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.
According to the six who resigned, Trump has zero awareness of the actual impact of HIV, like the reality that only 40 percent of people living with HIV in the United States can access the life-saving medications that they need. He refused to meet with HIV advocates during the campaign, and the day he took office, he took down the Office of National AIDS Policy website and it hasn’t been replaced months later. Unsurprisingly, he’s also appointed no one to lead the White House Office of National AIDS Policy, meaning there’s no one advising him on issues related to HIV.
They also outlined just how devastating Trump’s policy agenda could be. More than 40 percent of people with HIV depend on Medicaid for their care, and both the House and Senate versions of Trumpcare would massively cut Medicaid. And of course, HIV is a pre-existing condition, which means that the legislation could also allow insurance companies to charge people with HIV more, such that even the people who can currently afford their medications on their own might not be able to anymore.
Trump’s statement also neglects to mention PrEP, condoms, needle exchange programs, or any of the other interventions that have been found to be so effective in preventing the transmission of HIV. He also stopped short of acknowledging that many people who are receiving treatment for the virus can reduce their viral load to “undetectable” levels, which makes it virtually impossible for them to transmit the virus to others. Despite stating a desire to “protect ourselves and promote the health and safety of all,” Trump neglected to mention any of the things that actually help protect people from HIV beyond knowing their status.
The annual rate of new annual HIV infections has actually fallen over the past decade, and the future looks bright for new prevention efforts to have an even bigger impact. But Trump is doing nothing to actually be a part of that progress. He may be urging people to get tested, but he doesn’t seem to care what happens once they find out they’re HIV-positive.