This Move Suggests Trump Might Support the Global Effort to Fight AIDS

January 23rd 2017

Michelle Betters

On Inauguration Day, the Trump administration announced that several high-ranking global health officials would be retained through the transition, and one name in particular is reassuring proponents of U.S. spending to address the global AIDS epidemic.

Dr. Deborah Birx U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator

Ambassador Deborah Birx manages the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR, an initiative launched by George W. Bush to address the worldwide epidemic. The former U.S. president announced an ambitious $15 billion plan for AIDS prevention in his 2003 State of the Union address, and he expanded the effort in 2008. Many have described this as Bush’s “greatest legacy.”

Under the direction of Birx, PEPFAR has provided 7.7 million people with antiretroviral treatment.

During the Obama administration, PEPFAR prioritized “the goal of an AIDS-free generation,” and Birx focused in particcular on reducing new HIV infections in young women. In late 2016, Birx announced a partnership with multiple foundations to invest $385 million in preventative care. The goal, she wrote for the Huffington Post, was to “reduce new HIV infections in adolescent girls living in the highest-burden areas of 10 African countries by 40 percent by the end of 2017.”

In the weeks leading up to the inauguration, many worried a change in leadership would interrupt PEPFAR’s progress, or halt it altogether.

According to The New York Times, the Trump team reportedly asked the State Department whether or not the program is “worth the massive investment.” The questionnaire, which was intended to evaluate national relationships with Africa, asked a range of questions about funding humanitarian aid, including “Why should we spend these funds on Africa when we are suffering here in the U.S.?”

CDC Expands Global HIV/AIDS treatment

Though it has been criticized for its unsuccessful abstinence-education programs, PEPFAR has received bipartisan support. When the program was up for renewal in 2013, Center for Global Development blogger Jenny Ottenhoff called it “the easiest decision for Congress this week.” Rex Tillerson, Trump’s nominee for secretary of state, also complimented PEPFAR in his Senate confirmation hearing, calling it “one of the most extraordinarily successful programs in Africa.”

While retaining officials like Deborah Birx bodes well, it is still unclear exactly what the transition will mean for foreign aid, especially with Trump's reinstatement of the "Global Gag Rule" on Monday. This controversial rule prohibits any organization funded by the U.S. government from discussing abortion with women seeking care. Aram Schvey of the Center of Reproductive Rights told BuzzFeed the movie is a "pure political giveaway at the expense of some of the world’s most vulnerable."