Trump’s choice of VP sparks concern over AIDS funding

Vice President Mike Pence. (Credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

Trump’s pick for vice president, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, has spent his lengthy political career building a reputation for his conservative stance on social issues, especially gay rights. In light of Trump’s announcement, his reputation is elevating fears that a Trump candidacy could diminish U.S. contributions to the fight against HIV/AIDS.

Trump’s announcement came just before this week’s International AIDS Conference in Durban, South Africa, where the World Health Organization will highlight the need to renew global and sustainable financing to fight HIV/AIDS.

Global efforts have made enormous progress on HIV, particularly on treatment. But the WHO warns that progress on HIV prevention has recently stalled, with some regions and groups now seeing a rise in infections. According to the organization, changing donor priorities and continuing threats to the global economy pose challenges to financing efforts to end AIDS, making it even more critical to replenish the Global Fund to fight AIDS, TB and Malaria in September.

“This is no time for complacency,” said WHO Director-General Margaret Chan in a statement. “If the world is to achieve its goal of ending AIDS by 2030, it must rapidly expand and intensify its efforts.”

But some fear that with Trump in office, this goal will remain out of reach. In the days since Trump announced his choice for vice president on Twitter, critics have persistently referenced Pence’s actions as congressman in 2000, when he declared opposition to the Ryan White Care Act, which sought federal funding for low-income and uninsured victims of AIDS and their families.

“Congress should support the reauthorization of the Ryan White Care Act only after completion of an audit to ensure that federal dollars were no longer being given to organizations that celebrate and encourage the types of behaviors that facilitate the spreading of the HIV virus,” read an LGBT section of Pence’s website, called Strengthening the American Family.

He argued that the funding be put on hold until the government simultaneously invested in programs “directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior.”

What most media outlets have ignored, however, is that Pence has since adopted a different stance on funding HIV/AIDS initiatives – at least internationally. As a senior member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Pence played a leadership role in supporting programs to fund the U.S. response to HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis and voted for the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) in 2003 and 2008.

I believe the United States has a moral obligation to lead the world in confronting the pandemic of HIV/AIDS,” he said in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2008. He added that the threat posed by HIV/AIDS “to our security is also real” and that it could “undermine the stability of nations throughout the third world, leaving behind collapsing economies and tragedy and desperation – a breeding ground for extremist violence.”

But the move to support President George W. Bush’s AIDS relief program does not mean Pence’s opinions on gay rights have changed. In 2015, he furthered his notoriety among LGBTQ supporters for his role in the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which critics said could allow business owners to ban LGBT customers based on a claim of religious freedom. He’s also suggested that needle exchange programs, which can be used to help prevent the spread of HIV, encouraged drug use.

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Lisa Nikolau

Lisa Nikolau is a Madrid-based reporter for Humanosphere, covering gender equality, indigenous rights and poverty in Latin America and worldwide. Find her on Twitter at @lisanikolau, email lisa.nikolau@humanosphere.org or see her latest work at www.lisanikolau.com