Trump’s Free PrEP Campaign Is an Empty, Meaningless Gesture

“It’s a really cheap PR stunt that will help Gilead Sciences receive good press."
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Remember when the President promised to “defeat AIDS in America” during his State of the Union address in February? Well, the Trump administration has finally explained how the hell it plans to do that, and it involves expanding access to drugs that reduce the risk of HIV transmission by as much as 99 percent, when taken as directed.

To accomplish its lofty goal of reducing new HIV diagnoses by 90 percent over the next 10 years, per Bloomberg Law, the White House has partnered with Gilead Sciences, the pharmaceutical company that makes FDA-approved PrEP medications Truvada and Descovy, which has agreed to donate enough PrEP to cover up to 200,000 at-risk individuals per year. Through this, the Trump administration hopes to get half of all patients at high risk for HIV transmission on PrEP by 2025.


This all sounds good in theory, but advocates for people living with HIV say it’s not enough.

“This is not a sincere, thoughtful response to ending HIV,” Jason Rosenberg, a member of ACT UP New York, told VICE. “It’s a really cheap PR stunt that will help Gilead Sciences receive good press.”

According to Rosenberg, a sincere and thoughtful response would seek to address the myriad issues that compound a person’s risk for contracting HIV, like preserving access to safe and affordable housing. Homelessness and HIV are closely linked. a National Coalition for the Homeless study from 2006 found that homeless people are eight times more likely to be diagnosed with HIV than individuals with secure housing, which makes the Trump administration’s proposals to keep trans women, another high-risk group, out of sex-segregated homeless shelters all the more insidious. A thoughtful response would also push for sex work decriminalization, as laws that criminalize sex work like FOSTA-SESTA further marginalize sex workers, increasing their already disproportionately high risk for HIV transmission. It would also address HIV criminalization laws that use outdated science to punish people living with HIV for transmitting and potentially exposing others to the virus, Jacob Schneider, a staff attorney at the Center for HIV Law and Policy, told VICE.

“[Ending AIDS is] a three-dimensional issue,” said Schneider. “You can't talk about PrEP access without talking about compounding issues of HIV stigma and HIV criminalization. Any plans without that are not going to move us towards the end of the epidemic.”

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