What's Your Message to the Trump Administration About the Fight Against HIV?

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With a new White House administration comes a shift in HIV policy. What those changes will be under Donald Trump, for better or for worse, remain to be seen. What hasn't changed is the HIV epidemic and the need for policies that help HIV research, prevention and treatment.

We asked care providers, researchers and community leaders what their message to the Trump administration would be regarding the fight against HIV.

Interviews for this slide show were conducted by Terri Wilder, M.S.W., and Myles Helfand.


Benjamin Young, M.D., Ph.D.

Dr. Young is the senior vice president and chief medical officer of the International Association of Providers of AIDS Care (IAPAC), as well as an expert and editorial contributor to TheBody.com and TheBodyPRO.com.

With decades of commitment and support from the U.S. government, we've made incredible progress in the fight against HIV/AIDS. HIV treatment simply works: It prevents death, disease and new infections. With access to these treatments, we're now in a position to end the AIDS epidemic here in the U.S. and around the world.

Doing so will require a continued commitment to the U.S. National HIV/AIDS Strategy, the Ryan White Care Act and the State Department's President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief [PEPFAR] program; doing so will also require that we recognize the myriad facilitators and barriers to health care: access to health insurance, stigma and discrimination and the criminalization of populations affected by the virus.

Because of bipartisan support for HIV research and treatment, the U.S. government and the American people should feel proud of their central contribution to saving the lives of tens of millions of people. With continued U.S. government support, we can end the epidemic, and I implore you to reaffirm our nation's commitment.

Image courtesy of Benjamin Young.


Tami Haught

Tami Haught is the president of Positive Iowans Taking Charge.

My message would be: Do not repeal the Affordable Care Act [ACA]; fix it. The ACA has changed my life. I can go to the doctor five miles from home rather than making a five-hour round-trip every time I needed to see a doctor. I get my medications from one source rather than the six I was utilizing before the ACA. I am now able to work and be a productive, tax-paying citizen. Before the ACA, I had to live in poverty to access programs that helped me cover the expense of my medications. President Obama has even said that the ACA can use improvement, and he would support changes that make it better. If the ACA is repealed, including the pre-existing condition clause, I will lose access to my life-saving medications and treatment. I will die without this access. HIV is no longer a death sentence. People living with HIV can live long, productive, healthy lives as long as we can access care and treatment. Please do not take that away from us.

Image courtesy of Tami Haught.


Alysia Abbott

Alysia Abbott is a co-founder of The Recollectors, a storytelling site and community for the many children and families left behind by parents who died of HIV-related causes.

I would want to tell the Trump administration that HIV is not simply a scourge from the '80s in America but a disease that people are continuing to live with and die from here and around the world. President Trump doesn't mention HIV/AIDS in his health care policy. But, because of Vice-President Mike Pence's record on LGBT issues and the administration's anti-science stance, I'm terrified that under this new administration U.S. AIDS policy will be set back decades. Vice President Pence believes in abstinence-only education, which is known to foster higher rates of sexually transmitted infections and, as governor of Indiana, he presided over one of the fastest HIV outbreaks in U.S. history. If President Reagan is remembered for his inaction on AIDS, President Trump may be remembered for dismantling the AIDS safety net, including the Affordable Care Act, which insures health coverage for Americans with preexisting conditions, and PEPFAR -- the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief -- which was established by President Bush to help Africans with HIV.

I would also want to tell the administration that AIDS is not simply a disease that affects those who Trump and his cabinet members have reviled through words and deeds -- the LGBT community, the impoverished, ethnic minorities and immigrants. HIV impacts Americans of every religious, ethnic and economic stripe. AIDS continues to kill aunts and uncles, brothers and sons, mothers and fathers, sisters and daughters and cousins. AIDS is a family issue. And if the Republicans purport to be a party that believes in "family values," they must take these concerns seriously.

Image credit: Renaud Monfourny.


Paul E. Sax, M.D.

Dr. Sax is the director of the HIV Program and Division of Infectious Diseases at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

My greatest concern is that the president is kind of a wild card, and nobody can predict what he's gonna say or do. In that context, it's very hard to make plans based on his policies, either on the research or the care front, because we don't know what they're gonna be. I don't think anyone knows.

Image courtesy of Paul E. Sax.


Kathie M. Hiers

Kathie M. Hiers is the CEO of AIDS Alabama.

I would ask our new president to please consider the public health implications of reducing critical funding for persons living with HIV. We just can't abandon the fight now that the end of the epidemic is in sight! I would also ask why the administration is focusing on securing bathrooms when so many urgent issues face our country!

Image courtesy of Kathie M. Hiers.


David Alain Wohl, M.D.

Dr. Wohl is an associate professor of medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of North Carolina and site leader of the University of North Carolina AIDS Clinical Trials Unit at Chapel Hill.

HIV kills many more people here in the U.S. and abroad than ISIS, Al-Qaeda, and undocumented immigrants combined, and is on its heels after suffering defeat after defeat. Will you turn you back on this enemy? Will you preside over a reversal in the gains made combating this infectious disease, which is more devastating and destabilizing than any terrorist?

Image credit: Warren Tong.


Antonio E. Urbina, M.D.

Dr. Urbina is associate professor of medicine at Mount Sinai Health System.

My message to Donald Trump would be that, now more than ever, I really think we're at a critical stage in patients' lives with HIV. We realize that as people with HIV are aging, we're really identifying more comorbidities, more key issues -- such as central nervous system toxicity, cancers, metabolic disorders -- and we really need the administration to continue with funding, research and support for these very vulnerable patients.

Image credit: Terri Wilder, M.S.W.


Rebecca Erenrich, M.P.H.

Rebecca Erenrich is the research and community engagement coordinator at ACRIA.

Our president probably knows the basics about HIV/AIDS: how it's transmitted, the populations most at risk and that an HIV diagnosis is no longer a death sentence. Here's one aspect of the U.S. HIV epidemic he may be less likely to appreciate: Of the approximately 1.2 million people living with HIV in the United States today, over half are age 50 or older. As folks with HIV grow older, their needs change, and treatment and care become paramount. Research by ACRIA and others have found that over the years, health problems can multiply, isolation and loneliness can deepen and self-care may become more challenging. For many long-term HIV survivors, these challenges are compounded by the psychological toll of living for years believing that they would die young and the loss of many of their peers to the complications of AIDS. Rumors are swirling about what the Trump administration will do to the Affordable Care Act, the Ryan White Program and Social Security/Social Security Disability Income. These are all programs that older adults with HIV depend on. I want President Trump to understand that those aging with HIV are resilient, but also vulnerable. I would implore him to take great care when tinkering with programs that are so vital for this population. So much depends on it.

Image courtesy of Rebecca Erenrich.


Bobby Hall

Bobby Hall is an HIV activist in West Hollywood, California.

My message to the Trump administration would be to continue to support the fight against HIV by funding testing and preventive care as well the lifesaving resources necessary for those living with HIV, particularly for low-income individuals. President Trump has said next to nothing on this topic and Vice President Pence has a track record of proposing the defunding of these types of programs, such as the Ryan White Care Act, when he ran for Congress in 2000. These types of programs go a long way toward decreasing the number of new infections and improving the quality of life of those living with HIV, so are very important in this fight.

Image courtesy of Bobby Hall.


Kim

Kim is from Brooklyn, New York.

We have the tools necessary to end AIDS as we know it in the United States. We've made so much progress and have newer tools to support our efforts -- such as PrEP [pre-exposure prophylaxis]. It's completely and totally possible, but not without political will at all levels up to the new presidential administration. We're doing it here in New York! My idealistic hope is that fight against HIV and AIDS will continue to gain even more momentum. Does this administration want to be the administration fuels more people being infected with HIV or more deaths related to HIV or AIDS? I doubt it. My hope is that the vision to end AIDS will soon be realized.

Image courtesy of Kim.


Lowell Kane

Lowell Kane is from West Lafayette, Indiana.

Health care is a human right. We must have accessible and affordable care for all. Treatment is a powerful tool to prevent further new infections. We need easier availability of PrEP. Help create and maintain a culture in which people know their status and regularly get tested for HIV. The whole world is watching.

Image courtesy of Lowell Kane.


John Bonelli, M.S.W.

John Bonelli is an HIV activist and community organizer in New York City.

Uphold that science and evidence-based interventions should inform and be implemented in all HIV prevention efforts. We can end the spread of HIV in the U.S. with strategies being employed to test and treat those most at risk. Culturally appropriate HIV interventions that respect the individual must be employed, researched, evaluated and disseminated to address increased infection rates in impacted communities. Globally, the U.S. should sustain and increase funding for HIV prevention, treatment and research. A vaccine needs to be developed to help around the globe.

Image courtesy of John Bonelli.


Hilary McQuie

Hilary McQuie is the director of U.S. Government Policy at Health GAP.

What happens in the next four years will determine whether or not we end the AIDS pandemic. Right now, we are close to being on track to end AIDS by 2030, and a full investment by this administration and Congress would be an incredible opportunity to have a legacy of humanitarian success.

Image courtesy of Hilary McQuie.


Brenden Shucart

Brenden Shucart is a LGBT rights and HIV activist, actor and writer based in Atlanta.

Mr. President, if I could make an observation (and please forgive the presumption), you want to be loved, and I know how to get the whole country to love you. You, Donald J. Trump, could be the president who ends AIDS in America. We know how to do it. We have a model that works. It wouldn't happen overnight, of course; it would take time. But if you got the ball rolling, there would be people singing your praises till the end of time.

Image credit: Alli Royce Soble.


Tiommi Luckett

Tiommi Luckett is the communications coordinator at The Well Project.

The rate of transmissions of new HIV/AIDS diagnoses has reached a new low largely due to the continued federal funding directed toward prevention and treatment. I advise you to maintain the federal budget allocated to HIV-related services.

Image credit: Rhys Harper.


Peter Staley

Peter Staley is a gay rights and HIV activist in New York City.

In recent years, Medicaid expansion has become the number-one tool for fighting HIV/AIDS in the U.S. Please don't rip this away from us.

Image courtesy of Peter Staley.


Beverly Cox

Beverly Cox is from Atlanta, and is mother of the late iconic HIV activist Spencer Cox.

"Not withstanding the tremendous physical and mental suffering of people living with HIV, adequate funding for an HIV cure also makes financial sense in that solving a problem from the onset saves financial resources at a later time."

Image courtesy of Beverly Cox.


Sara Rafsky

Sara Rafsky is a researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Open Documentary Lab, and is the daughter of the late Bob Rafsky, founding member of Treatment Action Group.

"The importance of fighting the HIV epidemic has been a matter of bipartisan agreement over the course of several administrations. We've come too far, and too many millions of people have died and continue to die, here and abroad, to backslide on that commitment now."

Image credit: Morgan Levy.


Comment

What about you? What would your message to the Trump administration be regarding the fight against HIV? Share with us in the comments!

Image credit: ma_rish for iStock via Thinkstock.