WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) – As Congress continues to debate the country’s budget, health officials warn HIV prevention cannot be a part of any spending cuts.
A Trump-era plan aims to end the HIV epidemic in the U.S. by 2030.
“Nationally, we have made really great strides in HIV prevention,” said Dr. Robyn Neblett Fanfair, the acting director of the CDC’s HIV Prevention Division.
According to the CDC, new infections are down nationwide about 12 percent.
“However, this progress is not fast enough, and we know it is not reaching all communities equitably,” Fanfair said.
Fanfair said that gap is most notable in the South, where a majority of new infections are occurring, particularly in Black and Latino communities.
“So many people, especially Black women, don’t realize PrEP is for them,” she said.
PrEP is one of the most effective drugs to prevent HIV, but CDC data shows about two-thirds of people who can benefit from it have not received a prescription.
“There are substantial, severe and quite frankly unacceptable disparities when we look at PrEP,” Fanfair said.
Health experts point to a variety of factors causing those disparities, from poverty to distrust in the healthcare system.
“We’ve doubled down with our commitment to Black women,” said Darwin Thompson, the public affairs director at Gilead Sciences, a leading seller of the HIV prevention drugs.
Thompson’s company has committed $10 million to ensure Black women specifically have better access to preventative measures, including testing and clinical trials.
“We all have to work together, right? It’s from the top down,” Thompson said.
Thompson said ending the epidemic ultimately comes down to better education for patients, providers and the public.
“We need to end HIV stigma,” he said.
Thompson recommends yearly HIV testing for those 13 years and older.
“There are options, right? You have biomedical preventions, such as PREP,” he said. “But you also have what we consider U equals U, which is people who are living with HIV who get on treatment, know their status and become undetectable because the science says the people who are undetectable cannot transmit the HIV virus to their partners.”
President Joe Biden’s budget proposal includes more money for the HIV prevention plan, along with new funding to create a national PrEP program to make the drugs more accessible.
Congress recently passed legislation to push budget talks through the new year.
“It’s essential to be able to finish the job,” Fanfair said. “We know the way, but we need the will.”
The CDC is hosting in-person community engagement sessions in the South on HIV prevention through April.