From year to year, the headlines haven’t changed much. With every budget proposed by the Trump administration, there was also a line item that pitched a cut to funding for HIV/AIDS treatment and research globally.
“Today’s budget request is a chilling reminder that, if he had it his way, President Trump would take a hacksaw to the HIV treatment and health care programs that save the lives of millions of people around the world,” Emily Sanderson with Student Global AIDS Campaign said at the time.
Congress has rejected the cuts. But the proposals have had a lasting and serious effect, according to advocates.
“Despite the fact that the [HIV] epidemic is growing, we've ended up with flat funding,” Matthew Kavanagh, director of the global health policy and governance initiative at Georgetown University, tells NewNowNext.
The Global Fund calculates the shortfall of money needed to fight AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis through 2023 at $14 billion. That flat funding—or a lack of increase to the fight against HIV/AIDS year after year—hasn’t just impacted HIV work, experts claim. It has undermined health infrastructures all over the world. Today, as coronavirus spreads rapidly across the globe, experts say we are seeing the damage caused by those shortages and exacerbated by climate change.
A young woman sees her doctor at Education As a Vaccine Against AIDS in Nigeria.
“One of the most active programs around the world for building the kinds of capacities that countries need to respond to coronavirus are actually HIV programs,” Kavanagh explains. "Now what we're seeing is that, especially in Eastern Southern Africa, it's HIV labs where people are turning to actually diagnose coronavirus.”
Service providers who were trained to trail the spread of HIV are now being deployed to track coronavirus across the globe, he says: "So, especially for areas that are hard hit by HIV, the capacity for HIV response is directly related to the capacity for coronavirus [response]. And in that context, it's really worrisome that we haven't actually grown the pot because that has undermined our capacity to scale up in the region."
Such shortfalls of the U.S. government to adequately address global health epidemics means these same programs are underprepared to fight new viruses, including coronavirus, or COVID-19. This could have devastating effects not just globally, but back in the U.S., too, since America relies heavily on pharmaceuticals manufactured in China and other countries.
Chris Collins, president of the Global Fight Against AIDS, says COVID-19 threatens fragile health systems and supply chains.
“When you have a disruption in China's ability to produce those products, that could wind up affecting people living with HIV and others who depend on those medications,” Collins tells NewNowNext, adding that experts are also worried about the ability of underfunded health systems to continue to adequately serve HIV-positive Americans.
On Sunday, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, said the U.S. had officially moved past the point of containing the COVID-19 outbreak.
“We have to implement broad mitigation strategies,” Gottlieb said on Face the Nation.
While some Americans have taken a lax approach to coronavirus, noting that it appears to be fatal mostly among older adults and those suffering from serious health problems, health experts worry that widespread infection could overwhelm doctors' offices and hospitals both at home and abroad. For that reason, health officials are continuing to urge even those who are low-risk to take precautions to mitigate the spread of the virus.
COVID-19 is also a primer in climate change, according to health experts. As temperatures rise, and people are forced to live closer together, the conditions for a pandemic grow.
Matthew Rose, director of U.S. policy and advocacy at Health GAP, says it’s not just coronavirus and HIV that require urgent funding. One billion people will be at risk of malaria exposure due to climate change in the next few years.
“So we really have to figure out, 'How do we step up strengthening health systems so the global health system is in such a place that it can respond nimbly and quickly to contain [diseases], get care, and to respect human rights?'” Rose asks. “We've seen some real human rights blenders during this that have not really helped our efforts.”
Rose is critical of the CDC’s handling of the Grand Princess Cruise, where passengers were circling among 21 people infected with COVID-19 while the agency scrambled to determine how to de-board passengers, test them for the virus, and treat those who fell ill.
“We've seen it with other things," Rose adds, noting previous bird flu and swine flu epidemics in the U.S. "These are things that happen as climate [change] makes it harder and harder and makes us [live] more packed together. But also just disrupting care patterns and displacing both humans and animals. You see more of these interactions and more chances for viral jumps."