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VIDEO: NIH’s HIV Chief on Ending the AIDS Epidemic

Feb. 14, 2019, 10:35 AM

Policies that have made President Donald Trump unpopular with groups disproportionately affected by HIV won’t hamper plans to end the epidemic within the next decade, NIH’s HIV/AIDS chief said in an interview with Bloomberg Law.

“We have a track record that is very, very strong in complete lack of stigmatization, of working with people of any stripe,” Anthony S. Fauci said. The “we” referred to agencies within the Department of Health and Human Services that are carrying out a goal Trump announced in his Feb. 5 State of the Union address to eliminate the AIDS epidemic in the U.S.

Fauci is the longtime director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health. He has been working on HIV and AIDS from the beginning of the outbreak in the 1980s and has said the tools exist to end the epidemic right now.

Achieving this goal will require the buy-in of groups that have been hit hardest by the epidemic, such as the LGBTQ community. Gay and bisexual men accounted for two-thirds of new HIV diagnoses in 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Trump’s policies, such as an executive order that restricts military service by transgender individuals, have been viewed as hostile toward the LGBTQ community. The Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ advocacy group, runs a website called “Trump’s Timeline of Hate.” And Lambda Legal, a national LGBTQ legal organization, published a paper in December titled “Trump’s Judicial Assault on LGBT Rights.”

Black Americans also account for a disproportionately high number of new HIV diagnoses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Trump has an 11 percent approval rating among African Americans compared with 39 percent overall, according to a poll conducted in January by NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll.

But Fauci, who has run NIAID since 1984, said he and his colleagues at the CDC, the Health Resources and Services Administration, and the Indian Health Service have a proven track record of working with communities most afflicted by HIV.

“We have a great relationship with all of those groups, and that’s the reason why I think it’s going to work,” he said. AIDS activist Larry Kramer, who called Fauci an “incompetent idiot” in 1988, has since has became one of the NIAID director’s closest friends and allies, according to the NIH record.

Fauci, who still runs a laboratory that works on HIV research, spoke with Bloomberg Law about the HHS plan announced in February to reduce new HIV infections by 75 percent in the next five years and by 90 percent in the next 10 years.

“If we don’t do it, history will probably judge us harshly for not jumping at the opportunity,” Fauci said. “We have the tools. We have the focus. We have the targets that we need to go after. You put them all together, and I think we can get the job done.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Jeannie Baumann in Washington at jbaumann@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Fawn Johnson at fjohnson@bloomberglaw.com; Brent Bierman at bbierman@bloomberglaw.com