Advocates fighting to end HIV/AIDS assessed challenges posed by a Republican-controlled White House and legislature during a panel discussion at Duke University on Friday.
Donald Trump’s determination to repeal the core of the Affordable Care Act and looming changes to Medicare and Medicaid present challenges in terms of providing HIV care and continuing research to stop its spread, said Ronald Johnson, vice president of policy and advocacy for AIDS United, an advocacy group based in Washington, D.C.
“It’s important to maintain the bipartisan, nonpartisan aspect,” said Johnson, who began working in AIDS/HIV advocacy in 1984. “But we have to also recognize that many of the values of the current Republican party and the party holders are not in line with what it takes to advance us toward ending the epidemic. That’s an unfortunate thing to say.”
Johnson noted that advocates will have to work with the Trump administration and the new Congress. To do so effectively, he said, they will have to increase their “capacity for policy analysis.”
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“We are really all going to have to get into the weeds,” Johnson said. “We also are going to have to increase our capacity for political strategizing. We need to identify our allies in both parties – including in the Republican party.”
He and the other panelists – Joaqin Carcaño, of tUNC-Chapel Hill’s Institute for Global Health and Infectious Disease; Jaysen Foreman of RAIN, an HIV nonprofit in Charlotte, and Duke law professor Allison Rice – also discussed the epidemic in North Carolina. The N.C. AIDS Action Network organized the event at Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy in honor of World AIDS Day on Dec. 1.
The South continues to have the highest proportion of new HIV diagnoses – 18.5 per 100,000 people, compared to 14.2 in the Northeast, 11.2 in the West and 8.2 in the Midwest.
Panelists emphasized that despite progress in treating AIDS and in preventing HIV infections, work remains to be done to end the epidemic – both nationally and in the state.
In 2012, there were 26,437 people in North Carolina living with HIV or AIDs, according to RAIN, and 541 people died in the state because of the disease. The following year, there were 1,566 new HIV diagnoses.
“You often hear people say, ‘Well, isn’t HIV not a problem anymore?,’” said Lee Storrow, executive director at N.C. AIDS Action Network, the state’s only HIV/AIDS advocacy organization.
Storrow noted that the South continues to have the highest proportion of new HIV diagnoses, at 18.5 per 100,000 people. That compares to 14.2 in the Northeast, 11.2 in the West and 8.2 in the Midwest, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“One of the real concerns is that not everybody knows their status,” Storrow said. “They’re not in care, they’re not getting access to medication. They may be transmitting HIV to other individuals without even knowing it.”
Storrow emphasized the importance of ending stigmas about the disease, which might discourage people from getting tested. He also noted that significant disparities exist in terms of rates of contracting HIV, with young African-American gay and bisexual men particularly vulnerable.
Johnson said that despite the challenges, it is important to recognize how much progress has been made since the first World AIDS Day in 1988, which he described as a “dark” time for many.
“We are in a different place 28 years later,” Johnson said. “We can credibly talk about the development and implementation of plans to end the epidemic, as many jurisdictions here in the United States are already doing. That was a distant dream – I don’t even know if it was a dream – in 1998.”
Johnson cited increased access to HIV care and strong prevention programs that have resulted from advances in scientific research as examples of progress in recent years. He noted that positive policy changes have also been made at the federal level, including the lifting of a ban on travel from HIV-positive immigrants and the partial lifting of a ban on syringe exchanges.
Rachel Chason: 919-829-4629