Will Congress overcome apathy to pass a budget with funding for people living with HIV?

December 18, 2018 |

For the first time in 7 years, something exciting is happening: a proposed funding increase is included in the federal budget for the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). The question is, will Congress choose to overcome their deep-seated political apathy to make sure a full budget, inclusive of the $50 million increase passes? We will see…whenever our government decides to finish the budget process.

Vermont Senator and Senate Appropriations Committee Vice Chair, Patrick Leahy, proposed the $50 million increase back in June of this year. He said:

“I’m gratified that we were able to secure this increase in funding at a time when the Trump Administration is trying to gut important foreign aid programs across the board. This funding for HIV/AIDS and other devastating diseases will improve the lives of millions across the world and further America’s role as a global force for good.”

While $50 million is not nearly sufficient, it is vital new funding that can at least begin to address the urgent needs of people living with HIV around the world. At the low cost of $75 per person per year, $50 million could provide anti-retrovirals, the treatment for HIV/AIDS that allows a person to live a long healthy life, for an additional 667,000 people. At roughly $36 per person per year, $50 million could give 1.39 million people PrEP—the once-daily drug that is 98% effective at preventing HIV infection.

In stark and damning contrast, the U.S. military budget continues to inflate with meek outcry from Congress. President Trump signed a budget on March 23 for an additional $160 billion in military spending, creating a total of $686 billion for Department of Defense. With $160 billion, the U.S. could fund treatment for every person living with HIV in low and middle-income countries. If Congress wanted to end AIDS as badly as they wanted to militarize our borders, they could. From a policy perspective, global AIDS funding through PEPFAR has been a hallmark bipartisan success. It was founded by a Republican president, it is a humanitarian initiative, the money is spent efficiently, and provides resources for marginalized populations, like men who have sex with men, transgender people, sex workers, people who inject drugs, and LGBTQ people.

However, in the last seven years, both Democrats and Republicans alike (with very few exceptions) have been disturbingly quiet on the global AIDS crisis. While progressive members of Congress like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have recently been outspoken on the necessity of universal health care, global health–and HIV, a leading cause of preventable death–is noticeably excluded. Neither Senator did so much as tweet about people living with HIV on World AIDS Day, nevermind demanding increases for PEPFAR. Republican members of Congress have done little to show they care about the state of the global AIDS crisis.

This apathy from both sides is unacceptable. As a movement, it is our job to pressure Congress from the ground up to spend US funding on medicines, not weapons. You can take action today: Call, write to, and tweet at your members of Congress. Ask them to do their job and pass the FY19 budget with the $50 million increase to PEPFAR as a small but crucial step towards ending the AIDS crisis once and for all.