The Trump administration has given Congress a lengthy list of ways to cut upwards of $18 billion from the federal budget this year, including slashing $350 million from HIV/AIDS funded research.
White House budget documents supplied to Congress and published by Politico this week reveal that President Trump is planning to gut $242 million from the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), a key initiative of former President George W. Bush that continued under President Obama.
The White House claims the cuts will “maintain current commitments” and that the savings will come from putting a stop to “less effective HIV research,” but activists say the move will greatly slow down global efforts to combat the virus.
The proposed budget document states: “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.”
An additional $50 million in cuts are planned for the domestic HIV/AIDS budget as well as another $50 million slash from the CDC’s Global HIV/AIDS program, despite promises that these budgets would be protected.
“This reduction would eliminate less effective HIV research and prevention activities and accelerate reductions proposed in FY 2018,” the document claims.
PEPFAR has been widely praised since its establishment in 2003, with many crediting it for helping to bring the global HIV/AIDS crisis under control.
Trump’s own Secretary of State Rex Tillerson recently described it as “one of the most extraordinarily successful programs” during a confirmation hearing.
“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,” he said.
“[PEPFAR] is one of the best projections of compassion… 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.”
Vice President Mike Pence, on the other hand, has long been opposed to using government funds to support HIV/AIDS research.
As Governor of Indiana, Pence blocked the expansion of HIV services until it could be proved 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 [instead] be directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior,” he wrote on a campaign website.
Pence’s public health funding cuts led to the worst HIV outbreak in the state’s history.