Trump must take action to help America fight against HIV/AIDS

(CNN) With his first State of the Union Address behind him, President Trump has a historic opportunity to help America make real and lasting progress in the fight to end the epidemic of HIV/AIDS. After years of gains in treatment and prevention, new breakthroughs and policy ideas point the clearest way forward to an AIDS-free generation since the epidemic began. Yet the risk of losing key ground is real, and new infections driven by the opioid epidemic pose a generational threat. By seizing the potential of this moment, President Trump could change the course of this fight.

In fact, taking big and meaningful action on this issue is entirely consistent with President Trump’s goal, stated in his inaugural address, of supporting “the forgotten men and women of our country.” HIV/AIDS cuts across some of our most vulnerable populations: LGBT+ people, people of color, and, recently and notably, people affected by the opioid crisis. In fact, without renewed action, opioid dependency and needle sharing threatens a surge in new infections. In one part of Kentucky, nearly half of all new HIV infections last year were a result of injected drugs.

We’ve come too far to lose vital ground. It would be particularly tragic to fall back because, in many ways, 2017 was a year of great progress. We saw a steady increase in the use of critical prevention measures like PrEP, a reliable and safe prophylaxis which prevents HIV transmission among those at the highest risk of infection. In Florida, a new state initiative will make PrEP costless for all by the end of this year. Meanwhile, treatment innovation is speeding up, as safer, cheaper, more effective, and more flexible medications continue to emerge thanks to critical research funded by federal dollars.

By dedicating renewed focus to this issue, President Trump could acknowledge these advancements and signal an important change in approach to the rest of the government. Last year, the White House initially recommended steep cuts to programs and services that aid the fight to end AIDS and improve the lives of those living with HIV. As of now, the administration has yet to name a director of the National AIDS Policy, and the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS is vacant and inactive. But a new year is an opportunity for new priorities.

In fact, in some areas the federal government are already stepping up their fight. The Centers for Disease Control, after months of tireless campaigning by activists, is helping to spread the truth that HIV positive individuals with an undetectable viral load cannot transmit the disease to others. This is a critical step toward ending the social stigma that still plagues too many living with HIV, and it reflects a broader truth that trusting science, and sharing it with the general public, is our best tool to end the epidemic.

Honest, clear-eyed leadership has always made the difference in this work. Last month, we lost Mathilde Krim, a fierce activist, brilliant researcher, and pioneer who fought to expand treatment and care in the earliest days of AIDS. She was 91, but she never lost her passion for this cause. She once explained why she established amfAR, the Foundation for AIDS Research. The reason was simple: “Because I was incensed!”

We should still be incensed, but we have reason to be hopeful, too. After making nearly $9.5 million in critical grants in 2017, the Elton John AIDS Foundation will continue to support community organizations that serve key populations on the ground, helping those who live with HIV take care of themselves and others. But government has a critical role to play. The Trump administration now has the opportunity to reconstitute the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS with a full slate of qualified members, and ensure that vulnerable populations receive affordable care through programs like Medicaid.

The State of the Union may be behind him, but President Trump stands at a moment of real opportunity in the fight against HIV/AIDS. This new year has the potential to be decisive, but the speed and strength of our progress will depend on what the White House does next. By joining the fight, President Trump can change history and save lives.

David Furnish is chairman of the Elton John AIDS Foundation.

The Gayly. February 3, 2018. 5:30 p.m. CST.