World AIDs day which takes place on December 1st, sparked numerous news articles focusing on advancements in research and treatment methods, as well as changes due to the current political situation. While new advancements in research and treatment methods are constantly being revealed, that hardly means that this is the time to stop funding and supporting the efforts to find a cure and help HIV/AIDS patients.
In a recent CNN opinion article, author Tom Hart explains how fighting HIV and AIDS has been largely successful due to bipartisan support in American leadership. The slew of budget cuts the President Trump has recently proposed could threaten the continuing progress of the fight against HIV/AIDS.
In the beginning of December, the One Campaign released a report that explained how Trump’s first budget cut would remove $800 million in funding to the HIV/AIDs effort. ONE is a campaign and advocacy group that works around with people around the world to end extreme poverty and preventable diseases in Africa. Tom Hart is the North American executive director for the organization. Additionally, current leadership has put in place a new strategy for the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). This drastic decrease in funding would force the organization to stop treating some people in countries with the highest incidences of HIV/AIDS such as South Africa and Nigeria.
While research has been consistently advancing, and there are more treatments options than ever before, many people still do not have access to HIV/AIDS care. So it is not just a matter of increasing options and effectivity of treatment methods, but also increasing access worldwide.
Current treatment methods for HIV have enabled people to lead relatively healthy lives and live much longer than they would otherwise. The current administration should be working to ensure that more people have access to HIV/AIDS care, not less. Hart emphasizes that, “15.8 million people living with HIV do not have access to treatment, and many of those individuals live in countries whose bilateral AIDS assistance would be cut under the Trump administration’s budget proposal.” Additionally, increasing access to treatment greatly diminishes the risk of vertical transmission from a pregnant individual to the fetus. Since AIDS treatment can lower the amount of virus to the point where it is no longer transmissible, stopping treatment would increase the number of deaths due to AIDS. The ONE Campaign report indicates that cutting this funding would 300,000 deaths and 1.75 million new infections every year. This would likely trigger a resurgence of the epidemic and effect our ability to control it, which means that when Africa’s population doubles in 2050 we will not be ahead of the disease.
Since PEPFAR started in 2003, there has been a 47% decrease in AIDS-related deaths. PEPFAR needs resources to continue to adequately fight HIV and AIDS. President Trump should be maintaining or increasing funding, not cutting it. If more budget cuts are proposed, congress should do their part to halt them. Continuing research and treatment for HIV/AIDS is essential for a healthier world. Trump should be leading the fight against HIV/AIDS, not inhibiting it.
HIV and AIDS is still a relevant healthcare problem that should be a topic of discussion between providers and patients. While we have come a long way, and many people understand the HIV/AIDS is not necessarily the death sentence that it once was, that does not mean the conversation should stop. In fact, it should continue as it always has. HIV/AIDS is not the first thing on the minds of people who are sexual active, but it is still a concern and patients need to be educated about the risks and how to protect themselves. Additionally, encouraging appropriate screening is also essential, and with the availability of rapid testing, it is easier for people to get checked.
It is also important that we remember how this change in funding will affect minority groups. According to the CDC HIV/AIDS effects more black/African American individuals in comparison to other racial groups. Additionally, more adult and adolescent males are diagnosed with stage 3 AIDS than heterosexual individuals. Being aware of these statistics is important, but we should also be careful to avoid increasing the stigmas that already revolve around HIV/AIDS. These statistical differences are a result of sociodemographic factors such as housing, employment, and access to healthcare coverage and services, and can be seen with a number of health conditions not just HIV/AIDS. With the current administration we should continue to work fervently to educate our patients about their health, and ensure that they know how to access services that they may need.