Joe Biden doubles down on calls for HIV funding boost to end AIDS crisis ‘once and for all’

Joe Biden in a suit speaks behind a podium

US president Joe Biden has doubled down on his plea that Congress boost HIV funding by millions as he commemorated 40 years since the first known case of AIDS.

On Saturday (5 June), the White House issued a statement from Biden that reflected on the four decades since The New York Times first reported of a “rare cancer” that affected 41 queer folk in 1981 – and the breathtaking leaps in medicine made since.

In recounting the decades of devastation caused by the wily virus, Biden sought to stress not just preventing the spread of HIV, but wiping out the pernicious stigma entangled with it.

He echoed ambitious aims from the Health Resources and Services Administration to reduce the number of new HIV infections in the US by at least 90 per cent by 2030.

“On the 40th year of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, we remember the lives that were cut short by this terrible disease – including so many whose pain went unacknowledged for far too long,” Biden wrote.

“We also celebrate the resilience and dignity of the over 38 million people worldwide, including approximately 1.2 million Americans, living with HIV.”

Joe Biden: ‘Our work is not yet finished’

“Forty years ago today, five young men in Los Angeles were confirmed as the first known patients stricken with an illness that the world would later come to know as AIDS,” Joe Biden said.

“In the decades since more than 700,000 Americans and 32.7 million people worldwide have been lost to AIDS-related illnesses – a heartbreaking human toll that has disproportionately devastated LGBT+ communities, communities of colour, and underserved and marginalised people around the world.”

Biden thanked the countless sexual health activists, researchers and experts in helping America become a “leading force in the fight to end the HIV crisis”. He also, however, acknowledged prior government’s failures to grapple with or even acknowledge the epidemic.

He then amplified his calls earlier this year for an almost $270 million increase in funding for HIV testing, prevention and treatment programmes.

Antiretroviral pills Truvada sit on a tray at Jack's Pharmacy on November 23, 2010 in San Anselmo, California.

Antiretroviral pills Truvada, or PrEP. (Justin Sullivan/Getty)

The Executive Office of Management and Budget, which handles all executive department and agencies’ bookkeeping, filed Biden’s initial budget request for 2022 discretionary funding in April.

In injecting such a thumping financial boost, Biden said he hopes to “aggressively reduce new HIV cases by increasing access to treatment, expanding the use of preexposure prophylaxis (PrEP), and ensuring equitable access to services free from stigma and discrimination”.

It’s a dramatic departure from that of the Trump administration, where then-president Donald Trump gutted the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS  in 2017, as well as his own budget proposals that deeply cut into HIV funding.

“Despite the progress we’ve made, our work is not yet finished,” Biden continued.

“In honour of all those we have lost and all those living with the virus – and the selfless caregivers, advocates, and loved ones who have helped carry the burden of this crisis – we must rededicate ourselves to reducing HIV infections and AIDS-related deaths.

“We must continue empowering researchers, scientists, and health care providers to ensure equitable access to prevention, care, and treatment in every community – particularly for communities of colour and the LGBTQ+ community.

“And we must provide moral leadership to eradicate the stigma and discrimination still faced by those living with HIV, rededicating ourselves to continuing the vital work of ending this epidemic once and for all.”