Last month, Tennessee announced it would block $8.3 million in federal funding for HIV prevention and treatment. Harlem United strongly condemns this decision. We already lived through a decade of needless deaths due to bigotry and stigma, and we have come too far in our fight to end the HIV epidemic to watch our progress slip away because of hatred.
Some areas of Tennessee have among the highest rates of HIV in the country. Turning down funding to address this public health crisis will create unnecessary barriers to accessing lifesaving care. Over decades, the public health community has developed highly effective strategies for combatting the HIV epidemic:
- testing and prevention medications (like PrEP and PEP) for high-risk populations;
- providing easy access to life-saving medication for people living with HIV/AIDS, which can reduce the amount of HIV virus in the body so that it is untransmissible to others; and
- monitoring to address outbreaks as they happen.
Without federal funding, these proven strategies will be much less effective.
The governor has promised to replace the federal funding with state funds; however, he plans to direct these state dollars AWAY from groups at high-risk for HIV, which includes gay men and people who use drugs. Focusing public health efforts on services for those at high-risk has long been best practice, so why is Tennessee trying to be less effective?
The answer is shameful and simple. Tennessee’s decision is part of the appalling trend of politicizing healthcare. Right-wing groups hellbent on preventing gender affirming healthcare and attacking Planned Parenthood seem to have prompted this sweeping decision on HIV funding. We see this moral handwringing for what it really is: a bad faith attempt to deprive marginalized communities of healthcare.
This is not the first time that a state has blocked much needed HIV funding – from 2015 to 2017, Florida blocked $70 million in federal HIV aid. Public health officials say the decision fueled the epidemic in Florida. New diagnoses had been decreasing for five years until 2013, only to then increase by 11% through 2017: the timing of which coincides with the period when the federal funds were rejected.
HIV has an incredibly politicized past, but in recent years the fight to end the epidemic has been bipartisan, with broad support that has had significant impact. In one generation, we have turned a death sentence into a chronic condition. We cannot turn back the clock—the cost in human lives is much too high.
Harlem United stands with our fellow HIV service providers, and our neighbors in Tennessee living with, or at risk for HIV. Together we fight for equitable access to healthcare. Without it, we cannot succeed in ending the HIV epidemic.
Harlem United also stands with healthcare providers who believe in evidence-based practices that lead to the best medical care– including gender affirming care and abortion. These politicians and commentators are playing with peoples’ lives. And to that, we say ‘hell no.’