Trump’s Cuts to HIV Foreign Aid Could Take Millions of Lives

(TFC) – Another one of Donald Trump’s “America first” policies is poised to deal a heavy blow to the global community. This time, it cuts foreign aid, specifically aid for people suffering from HIV/AIDS in South Africa and the Ivory Coast.

While the US has been a global leader in assistance to those suffering from the single most devastating disease of our time, the cuts that Trump’s administration have proposed amount to $242 million cut from the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), and additional money from other programs.

Overall, government spending to fight AIDS in foreign countries would be reduced by 17%. Critics have called the move “draconian,” and say they fear it could change the face of the AIDS pandemic the world over for the worse.

A Step Backwards

It was only July when the same program made a major announcement about the state of efforts to control HIV and AIDS in Africa. Four countries including Swaziland, where HIV is more prevalent than anywhere else in the world, are nearing a state where they can control the spread of disease.

Malawi, Zambia, and Zimbabwe were recognized in the White House statement for their “significant progress.” In Swaziland, the reduction in HIV prevalence among adults is close to 50% when compared to 2011 levels.

Enormous humanitarian effort has been put forth and the global initiative has helped people in these nations gain access to treatments that never existed in the past, but cutting funding could jeopardize all of the progress we’ve made. It should be noted that despite the heavy cutting, Trump’s administration would ensure that no patient currently receiving antiretroviral treatment would be denied it.

Instant Gratification is not the Answer

It is likely that Trump’s vision is for other world leaders to assume more responsibility for the AIDS pandemic. The problem is that the US has played not just a leading role, but a dominant one as the backer for humanitarian AIDS treatment efforts.

In Trump’s eyes, it’s time for more of the world to “do their part.” That, in many ways is happening, with nations like France, which has committed to flat funding for the disease but failed to meet that commitment, under heavy pressure both internally and abroad.

Should the US government retract this assistance, it’s not likely that another backer will step in to pick up the difference. In that situation, two things will happen.

First, by denying those who would have received care access to treatment and AIDS countermeasures, the infection will begin to spread again in foreign countries. That leads to an increase in patients and infections, which create more load for the global effort to sustain. If we’re really in this together, these budget cuts do nothing but create more costs in the long run.

The picture gets grimmer when you look at it from the perspective, not of dollars spent, but lives lost. Experts have claimed the budget cuts could have the long-term effect of 9 million years in human life lost.

Commentary from PEPFAR’s Creator

PEPFAR is a program that stems from the George W. Bush administration, and while Bush isn’t known for being a vocal former commander-in-chief, he did have something to say on the topic of PEPFAR. Bush defended the program in a Washington Post Op-Ed, citing the way it has saved nearly 12 million lives.

Bush went on to extoll the virtues of bringing hope to places that might otherwise become targets for extremism. Bringing hope to devastated populations and stabilizing societies makes our country, and the world safer, he explained and expressed that he hopes to see the program continue on fully funded.

Congress Could Replace PEPFAR Funding

Resistance from a republican congress has been one of the earmarks of Trump’s presidency thus far and it appears he will meet more pushback on the PEPFAR issue as these proposed cuts make their way through the system.

Some of Trump’s consistent contenders including Lindsey Graham, Republican chairman of the Senate subcommittee responsible for diplomacy and foreign aid spending, have vocally opposed the bill. Graham himself said that to implement such a budget, which includes a number of additional reductions in diplomatic and humanitarian areas, would “gut soft power.”

The budget may indeed fail without the support of senate republicans, but even if it does not, the difference in PEPFAR funding could still be made up in the Congressional budget.

More Proof Trump isn’t Thinking About the Future

American presidents can hold power for up to eight years assuming they are re-elected, the standard term is four years. What Donald Trump has done to the United States’ image in foreign affairs in the course of six months will take at least a single term for someone else to repair, but he doesn’t seem to care about that.

This new “America first” doctrine doesn’t seem to be so much “America first” as it is “me first.” A series of handouts and nods to leaders of industry that provide quick payoffs, but weaken America’s position in the long run.

It is sad to see that a man Americans hoped would offer a change from the status quo has delivered it in a package more diabolical than even career politicians would be willing to because his isn’t a legacy of politics.

Instead, in Trump’s mind, it’s about him and winning. Dollars equal winning, and bringing dollars back to his country is worth more even than innumerable human lives. What a shame.