December 1, 2016
Dear President-Elect Trump,
Today is World AIDS Day, a day when United States presidents traditionally speak to the nation and the world to remember the millions who have died because of the disease, to offer support to the infected who are still alive, and to commit to ending the epidemic that affects so many people around the world. I hope you will continue this tradition during your term in office.
Many Americans believe that the AIDS crisis is over. Unfortunately, it is not over, but thanks largely to the leadership of the United States, the world has reached the point where it can be over. In 2003, President George W. Bush launched the Presidents Emergency Program for AIDS Relief. PEPFAR sparked the global initiative that made life-saving medications widely available and that has been described as one of the greatest and most effective humanitarian initiatives in history. It was a remarkable demonstration of American leadership in the world, with strong bi-partisan support at home.
The world still needs that leadership to ensure that the AIDS crisis doesn’t get worse again. A recent study by UNAIDS and The Lancet medical journal showed that there is a high likelihood of the disease returning strongly in the 2020s. Data from the International AIDS Conference in Durban, South Africa, suggested that the uptick in new infections has already started. The lives of millions of people, here at home and around the world, are at risk.
Fortunately, we know how to overcome this crisis and to end the AIDS epidemic. Scientists and doctors have developed medications and treatment protocols that save lives and prevent new infections. But it requires action to take advantage of what we know, and the action must come soon. The UNAIDS/Lancet study showed that we have a short five-year window of opportunity. If we take the right actions in the next five years, we will be able to bring the disease under control by 2020 and end the AIDS epidemic as a public health threat by 2030. If we do not take the right actions, the epidemic will strengthen, resulting in tens of millions of new infections and tens of millions of deaths.
This year, the world collectively made the commitment to end the epidemic, to take the actions needed in the next five years to prevent the disease from coming back in the 2020s. In June, the United Nations High Level Meeting on AIDS established targets for prevention and treatment, as well as the levels of funding required to meet those targets. At a Montreal meeting in October, the nations of the world committed to continued funding of The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. The United States, through PEPFAR and other agencies, played a vital role in these meetings. The United States will continue to play a vital role in ensuring follow through on the commitments during the five-year window.
Your leadership in those efforts is critical. The five-year window of opportunity aligns with your first term in office. You are in a position to ensure American leadership throughout this fight, to prove that the United States can still rise to the occasion when we are needed on the global stage.
There are four specific steps you could take right now, in recognition of this year’s World AIDS Day:
- Publically address the AIDS crisis, reaffirming the United States’ commitment to ending the epidemic.
- Reassure the world that your administration will follow through on the financial and organizational commitments made by the United States earlier this year.
- Commit to retaining PEPFAR as a strong and well-funded initiative within the State Department of your administration.
- Commit to ongoing support for domestic initiatives, such as the Ryan White Act and the Office of National AIDS Policy.
I hope you take these steps. AIDS is a matter of life or death for tens of millions of people. Literally.
Dr. David Barstow