By Barbara Lee / Sean Strub / Joel Goldman
February 20, 2017
To the Editor:
Re “Why Trump Should Keep Pepfar,” by Bill Frist (Op-Ed, Feb. 9):
Bill Frist is exactly right: The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or Pepfar, has been one of the most successful public health and peace initiatives in our country’s history. This lifesaving program is an important example of what our government can accomplish when we set aside partisan disagreements and focus on saving lives.
In the early 2000s, I was honored to lead the bipartisan effort, with the backing of the Congressional Black Caucus, to establish Pepfar. Under both President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama, we have strengthened the program. As a direct result of this bipartisan work, public health experts believe that we are on the cusp of realizing an AIDS-free generation by 2030.
Right now, we are at a turning point in the AIDS epidemic. Either we can redouble our investments and eradicate the disease, or we can retreat from our leadership in the world.
I urge President Trump to learn from the successes of Pepfar and choose the first option.
The writer, a California Democrat, is a member of the House Budget and Appropriations Committees and a co-chairwoman of the Congressional H.I.V.-AIDS Caucus.
To the Editor:
If President Trump wants to make a difference in preventing H.I.V. in the United States and around the world, ending H.I.V. criminalization — the wrongful use of someone’s H.I.V.-positive status in a criminal prosecution — is the first step. These laws impose criminal penalties on people living with H.I.V. based on exaggerated fears and misinformation about H.I.V. transmission.
The HIV Justice Network reports that 72 countries currently have H.I.V.-specific criminal laws that allow prosecution for H.I.V. nondisclosure, potential exposure and transmission; the United States is a global leader with 32 individual states having “H.I.V.-specific” criminal statutes, mostly passed in the 1980s and ’90s. There is zero evidence indicating they have contributed anything toward their intended goal, which was to reduce H.I.V. transmission.
A growing body of evidence demonstrates that H.I.V. criminalization statutes are making the epidemic worse, because of how they discourage people at risk from getting tested for H.I.V. (one can’t be prosecuted if one doesn’t know he or she has H.I.V.) and create mistrust of the public health system.
We can prosecute H.I.V. or we can prevent it, but we can’t do both. Ending H.I.V. criminalization will save money, reduce H.I.V.-related stigma, protect the rights of people living with H.I.V., and, most important, improve public health here in the United States and around the globe.
Mr. Strub is executive director of the Sero Project, and Mr. Goldman is managing director of the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation.