The Trump administration is calling for a $1.1 billion cut to HIV-treatment programs in Sub-Saharan Africa and a $524 million cut to providing contraception to developing nations. The reduced spending may save American taxpayers some money, but would come at a tremendous cost of human life – more than one million lives to be more precise, experts said Tuesday.
The United States currently spends more than $6 billion on antiretroviral drugs that benefit about 11.5 million people living with AIDS, according to the New York Times. Reducing that funding by 20% could have dire consequences.
Global Fund estimates that every $100 million saves about 133,000 lives. AmfAR, meanwhile, calculates the funding cuts could cost more than a million lives and orphan more than 300,000 children, the Times reports.
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“These are lifesaving interventions, and the levels of reductions will significantly curtail service delivery,” said Jen Kates, a vice president of the Kaiser Family Foundation.
About 37 million people in the world are living with HIV as of 2015, of which nearly 2 million are children, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). As of mid-2016, 18.2 million people worldwide are receiving antiretroviral treatment.
Hari Sastry, director of the State Department’s Office of US Foreign Assistance Resources, told reporters that people currently benefitting from these programs will continue to receive treatment in spite of the funding cuts, but did not explain how exactly it would happen, according to the Times.
The cuts to providing contraception, though less in monetary value, could be more detrimental in the long term. As more people reach sexual maturity, the lack of proper contraceptives could lead to more HIV cases as access to treatment becomes less available.
Melinda Gates, co-founder of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation criticized the proposed cuts in a Facebook post. As Gates points out, reducing access to contraception would have devastating results, especially for women.
“The data shows that this drastic step would lead to more unintended pregnancies, more maternal deaths, and more missed opportunities for the 225 million women who do not want to get pregnant but still lack access to contraceptives,” she wrote. “This budget threatens to trap millions more families in a cycle of poverty.”
About 70% of pregnant women living with HIV have received antiretroviral treatment, according to the WHO.
In spite of the alarming analysis, it’s highly unlikely the budget will be approved. Even as Congress pens its own budget, funding for HIV/AIDS treatment should be safe.
The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (Pepfar), enacted by George W. Bush in 2004 and expanded Barack Obama, funds AIDS treatments in more than 60 countries and has strong, bipartisan support.
Approximately 1.1 million people died of AIDS in 2015. The same year saw roughly 2.1 million new HIV infections, 150,000 of them children. Though the rate of new HIV infections has plateaued in recent years, massive funding cuts to global health initiatives threaten to undo the progress that has been made.
Disclosure: The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is a funding partner of Global Citizen.
Editor's note: This piece has been updated to include a disclosure that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is a funding partner of Global Citizen. We regret the oversight.