George W Bush warns Trump over plans to slash funding for AIDS programmes
Former President George W Bush has issued a public warning to Donald Trump over proposals that would slash the budget for the US government’s HIV/AIDS programmes.
White House budget documents supplied to Congress last month revealed Donald Trump and Mike Pence’s plans to gut the funding for the US’s pioneering HIV/AIDS prevention projects.
The bulk of the cuts are proposed to the President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which was set up by former President George W Bush to tackle the AIDS crisis, and is one of the largest providers of funding for global projects battling the spread of HIV/AIDS.
The White House is proposing to slash $242 million from the PEPFAR budget, alongside $50 million slashed from the domestic HIV/AIDS budget and $50 million from the CDC’s Global HIV/AIDS program.
The White House claims the cuts will “maintain current commitments” and that the savings will come from ending “less effective HIV research and prevention activities”, but activists say the cuts will cripple global attempts to eradicate AIDS.
Former President Bush, who is often praised for setting up PEPFAR despite his broadly regressive stances on LGBT issues, penned an op-ed for the Washington Post warning against any cuts.
He wrote: “My administration launched PEPFAR in 2003 to address the HIV/AIDS pandemic that threatened to wipe out an entire generation on the continent of Africa. Nearly 15 years later, the program has achieved remarkable results in the fight against
“Nearly 15 years later, the program has achieved remarkable results in the fight against disease. Today, because of the commitment of many foreign governments, investments by partners, the resilience of the African people and the generosity of the American people, nearly 12 million lives have been saved.
He added: “As the executive and legislative branches review the federal budget, they will have vigorous debates about how best to spend taxpayers’ money — and they should.
“Some will argue that we have enough problems at home and shouldn’t spend money overseas. I argue that we shouldn’t spend money on programs that don’t work, whether at home or abroad.
“But they should fully fund programs that have proven to be efficient, effective and results-oriented.
“Saving nearly 12 million lives is proof that PEPFAR works, and I urge our government to fully fund it. We are on the verge of an AIDS-free generation, but the people of Africa still need our help.
“The American people deserve credit for this tremendous success and should keep going until the job is done.”
Though diplomatically worded, the former Republican leader’s statement serves as a coded warning to Trump – and will be a rallying cry for moderates in Congress on the issue.
President Obama previously warned about the importance of maintaining funding for HIV/AIDS projects.
In a World AIDS Day message, the outgoing President said: “We need to do more to reach those who are at risk for contracting HIV/AIDS, and the United States is helping shape the world’s response to this crisis and working alongside the international community to end this epidemic by 2030.
“We have strengthened and expanded the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), with now more than $70 billion invested, to accelerate our progress and work to control this epidemic with comprehensive and data-focused efforts.
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“With PEPFAR support for more than 11 million people on life-saving treatment and through contributions to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria — including a new pledge of more than $4 billion through 2019 — there are now more than 18 million people getting HIV treatment and care.
“Because in sub-Saharan Africa young women and adolescent girls are over eight times more likely to get HIV/AIDS than young men, we launched a comprehensive prevention program to reduce HIV infections among this population in 10 sub-Saharan African countries.
“We have also helped prevent millions of new infections worldwide, including in more than 1.5 million babies of HIV-positive mothers who were born free of HIV.”
He warned: “Although we have come far in recent decades, our work is not yet done and the urgency to intervene in this epidemic is critical… accelerating the progress we have made will require sustained commitment and passion from every sector of society and across every level of government around the world.”
When it comes to controversial policies on HIV, Vice President Mike Pence has plenty of prior experience.
As Governor of Indiana, Pence stood in the way of expanding HIV services and preventative measures like needle exchanges – until he was forced to declare a public health emergency due to a sharp rise in transmissions.
Pence famously once suggested that HIV prevention funding be drained in order to fund state-sponsored ‘gay cure’ therapy.
On a 2000 Congressional campaign website, Pence wrote: “Congress should support the reauthorization of the [HIV funding] Ryan White Care Act only after completion of an audit to ensure that federal dollars were no longer being given to organisations that celebrate and encourage the types of behaviours that facilitate the spreading of the HIV virus. Resources should be directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behaviour.”