Trump demands officials justify ‘massive’ spending on federal AIDS programme

The Trump transition team have asked government officials to justify the need for an AIDS prevention programme.

The New York Times reports that Trump officials have sent a string of questions to the State Department concerning PEPFAR, the United States governmental initiative, set up by George W Bush to address the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the developing world.

PEPFAR is one of the largest providers of aid to third-world countries battling the spread of HIV/AIDS, and has been credited with helping bring the crisis under control- halving the death rate in countries it is active within just five years.

However, according to the NYT, Trump officials questioned whether it is “worth the massive investment” and whether it had become an “entitlement program”.

The memo asked: “Is PEPFAR worth the massive investment when there are so many security concerns in Africa? Is PEPFAR becoming a massive, international entitlement program?”

The veiled suggestion that the programme is at risk comes despite incoming Secretary of State Rex Tillerson describing it as “one of the most extraordinarily successful programs in Africa” in his confirmation hearing.

The ExxonMobil billionaire had claimed: “I saw it up close and personal, and I know that PEPFAR has broadly brought so much goodwill from Africa, recognition of the goodwill and the compassionate nature of the American people.

“[PEPFAR] is one of the best projections of compassion into the continent that I think that you will ever find, and it is broadly recognised by the leaders, and more importantly, recognised by those who it touches.”

J Stephen Morrison of the Center for Strategic and International Studies warned that memos, which form part of a wider apparent scepticism to current policy on Africa, suggest an “overwhelmingly negative and disparaging outlook”.

He told the NYT: “A strange attitude runs through this. There’s a sort of recurrent skepticism that Africa matters to US interests at all. It’s entirely negative in orientation.”

President Obama previously warned about the importance of PEPFAR.

In a World AIDS Day message last month he said: “We need to do more to reach those who are at risk for contracting HIV/AIDS, and the United States is helping shape the world’s response to this crisis and working alongside the international community to end this epidemic by 2030.

“We have strengthened and expanded the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), with now more than $70 billion invested, to accelerate our progress and work to control this epidemic with comprehensive and data-focused efforts.

“With PEPFAR support for more than 11 million people on life-saving treatment and through contributions to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria — including a new pledge of more than $4 billion through 2019 — there are now more than 18 million people getting HIV treatment and care.

“Because in sub-Saharan Africa young women and adolescent girls are over eight times more likely to get HIV/AIDS than young men, we launched a comprehensive prevention program to reduce HIV infections among this population in 10 sub-Saharan African countries.

“We have also helped prevent millions of new infections worldwide, including in more than 1.5 million babies of HIV-positive mothers who were born free of HIV.”

He warned: “Although we have come far in recent decades, our work is not yet done and the urgency to intervene in this epidemic is critical… accelerating the progress we have made will require sustained commitment and passion from every sector of society and across every level of government around the world.”