Earlier this year, Donald Trump made headlines when Bill Gates alleged that the president didn’t know the difference between HIV and HPV.
Despite this apparent lack of awareness, Sir Elton John and his husband David Furnish recently stated, somewhat optimistically, that Trump “has the ability to say: ‘I want to be the president that ended AIDs.’”
Elton and his partner are long-term advocates of HIV prevention; the Elton John AIDs Foundation was established as America was recovering from the havoc wreaked by the epidemic, and the foundation’s activism continues today.
Crucially, this activism is still needed.
Official statistics show that more than 1.1 million people in the USA are currently living with HIV, and 1 in 7 of these people don’t know it.
This is important; vital healthcare breakthroughs have been made to ensure that the virus is no longer a death sentence. ART (anti-retroviral treatment) has been advanced to the point that HIV+ patients on medication cannot transmit the disease once their viral load reaches ‘undetectable’ levels
A recent study of male, same-sex couples confirmed this – at Amsterdam’s International AIDs Conference, it was announced that PARTNER2 had tested for transmission amongst 635 gay couples, all of whom had sex without a condom some collective 77,000 times. Not one transmission was detected.
This treatment is provided under a USA government emergency plan, PEPFAR, passed under President Bush’s administration in 2003. Another drug, Truvada – essentially a preventative drug – is also available under the plan, yet anyone without access to health insurance is severely priced out of access.
There are obviously still issues to be resolved, but Elton and Furnish both see no reason that Trump shouldn’t be trusted. Pink News reports Elton John said:
If you go to Congress, it’s a truly bipartisan thing – the only thing that’s bipartisan. It’s brought so many wonderful things for people who thought they were going to die globally.
President Trump has the ability to say, ‘I want to keep PEPFAR going and I want to be the President that ended AIDS.’
If he said that I would back him up to the hilt – I don’t care what he calls it, he can call it TRUMPFAR and do whatever he wants, but he has the ability to say, ‘it was my Republican predecessor President George Bush who instigated PEPFAR as a bipartisan thing, then the Obamas continued it for eight years.’
He has the ability to say, ‘it will continue and I have the ability to become the President that ended AIDS’.
Speaking on record, Furnish stated:
He hasn’t cut anything. We’re watching and we’re waiting.
When we see genuine things happen that will threaten and set us back, we’re standing by.
But there’s so much criticism flying around the world right now that until there’s something specific and tangible…
PEPFAR may still be in place, but last year Trump continued to bulldoze through his HIV Advisory Council, effectively firing every member.
The move was described to The Independent as a “purge”, with lawyer and former advisor Scott Schoetes saying at the time:
I think this is a president and an administration that doesn’t value dialogue and dissenting views.
He then claimed that Trump “simply does not care” about people living with HIV.
Earlier this year, the president’s administration also threatened to rescind a non-discrimination clause which protects the trans community from unfair healthcare treatment. Spending was also recently slashed, with money being redirected towards reunification of the families forcibly separated by Trump's harsh immigration policies.
These separations led to Cynthia Nixon, a New York gubernatorial candidate to describe immigration agency ICE as a "terrorist organisation".
According to non-profit organisation Avert, trans people are 49 times more likely to live with HIV than the general population.
Despite these facts, Elton and Furnish sound hopeful that the president could continue progress towards eradicating the virus for good. And if not? Elton is willing to have words with Trump, whom he said frequently attends his concerts:
If it comes to having a dialogue with him, then I’ll have a dialogue with him.