By Dan Diamond
President Donald Trump plans to use Tuesday night’s State of the Union address to promise an end to the HIV epidemic in America, four individuals with knowledge of the planned remarks told POLITICO.
Under Trump’s 10-year strategy, health officials would target the U.S. communities with the most HIV infections and work to reduce transmissions by 2030. The strategy has been championed by top health officials, including HHS Secretary Alex Azar and CDC Director Robert Redfield.
While Trump’s plans for the address remain fluid — and one official cautioned that the speech is not finalized — HHS has pressed the White House to ensure the HIV strategy is highlighted on Tuesday night, said two individuals. The agency is also planning a broader rollout this week.
An HHS spokesperson referred questions to the White House. A White House spokesperson declined to comment.
More than 1 million Americans have HIV, according to the CDC, and about 40,000 are newly infected every year.
The State of the Union historically has been a platform for presidents to make bold public health proclamations — many of which haven’t come to pass. Former President Barack Obama used his final address in January 2016 to call for an end to cancer. While the cancer rate has continued to decline, more than 600,000 U.S. residents were estimated to have died from cancer last year.
Under Trump’s HIV strategy, health officials would spend the first five years focusing on communities across roughly 20 states where the most HIV infections occur. The ultimate goal is to stop new infections over a 10-year period, said two officials, with some parallels to how the Trump administration is targeting the opioid epidemic.
The strategy was heavily shaped by Redfield, a prominent AIDS researcher who was tapped to lead the CDC last year. Redfield told an all-hands meeting at the CDC last year that ending AIDS by 2025 was possible with existing public health tools, like more widespread use of condoms.
Brett Giroir, the HHS assistant secretary for health who’s overseen much of the Trump administration’s opioid work, has also been tapped to steer the rollout of the HIV strategy.
The Trump administration has had an at times fraught relationship with the HIV/AIDS community. The president in January 2018 fired his HIV/AIDS advisory panel with no explanation, and the panel’s new members weren’t sworn in until last week.
Trump also repeatedly sought to cut the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, better known as PEPFAR — a multibillion-dollar initiative launched by former President George W. Bush, which has been credited with saving more than 17 million lives around the world. However, Trump in December 2018 signed an extension to the program that received bipartisan support.
Meanwhile, advocates have raised concerns that the Trump administration is rolling back key protections for LGBTQ patients, who are disproportionately prone to HIV infections. About two-thirds of new HIV infections are in gay or bisexual men.
HIV/AIDS researchers have criticized Trump’s health department for an effort — spearheaded by Giroir and supported by anti-abortion advocates — to seek alternatives to fetal tissue research. HIV/AIDS researchers say fetal tissue is necessary for developing a potential vaccine for the disease.
Brianna Ehley contributed to this report.