In the President’s State of the Union Tuesday night, two days ahead of National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NBHAAD), he claimed that his budget will ask for funding to end the AIDS epidemic within the United States within 10 years. He framed this as a bipartisan, unifying effort, but, if he and his administration are serious about this commitment then they must stop actively exacerbating racism, homophobia, transphobia, and other drivers of HIV. This is the only way to end HIV and AIDS.
Dr. Maya Angelou once said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them.”
Actions speak louder than words and this president fired the remaining HIV/AIDS advisory panel (PACHA) last year with no explanation, allowing the panel to be unstaffed until last week. He has repeatedly sought to cut the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, better known as PEPFAR, a multibillion-dollar initiative which has been credited with saving more than 17 million lives around the world, only signing an extension to the program in December. Furthermore, the Trump administration’s proposed changes to Medicare Part D would remove most of the protections that ensure people living with serious conditions, like HIV, can access the treatments they need.
His rhetoric and policy actions have fueled the increase of violence against Black and LGBTQ communities that is exemplified by the racist and homophobic attack on one of our board members last week. The president’s contributions and leadership in the anti-Black movement that is gripping the country must be acknowledged and ended.
HIV is a disease of intersectionality and syndemics. To end the HIV and AIDS epidemic we must respond to the reasons why Black Americans are not able to access and utilize the amazing tools we have that can end this epidemic. Increasing access to prevention and treatment in high burden areas is a good start, but we won’t achieve full success unless we address the underlying factors driving HIV. In the US, these drivers include racism, homophobia and mass incarceration. For example, Black people are incarcerated at five times the rate of white people in this country and HIV rates among incarcerated individuals are 3 times greater than among the general U.S. population; mass incarceration, like racism, transphobia, and homophobia have deep and complex connections to the HIV epidemic.
If President Trump is serious about his promise to end the AIDS epidemic in the US by 2030, the clear path forward entails policies that are grounded in science, address the health disparities that persist, and center leadership from communities most impacted by HIV. At the Black AIDS Institute, our team works to ensure Black communities know about the tools we have to end HIV and make sure healthcare providers and institutions are doing the necessary work to provide quality services to Black communities.
*Copeland is the President and Chief Executive officer for the Los Angeles based Black AIDS Institute. It is the nation’s only Black think tank focused exclusively on ending HIV with a mission to stop the AIDS epidemic in Black communities by engaging and mobilizing Black institutions and individuals in efforts to confront HIV. Their motto speaks to their mission, “Our People. Our Problem. Our Solution.”