WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, entered the following statement into the Congressional Record Friday in commemoration of World AIDS Day 2017:
“Today, I rise to recognize World AIDS Day. It may be hard to remember, but there was a time when Congress could put bitter partisan rancor and finger-pointing blame games aside and unite around a cause. We did so to fight HIV/AIDS globally. Since 2003, the President’s Plan for Emergency AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) has meant the difference between life and death for millions of people. In fact, just last year, I met a 30-year-old man named Simon in Namibia who said he would not be alive without the international community’s HIV/AIDS assistance. And with the generous support of the American people, the U.S. government has committed more than $70 billion to bilateral HIV/AIDS programs; the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis & Malaria; and bilateral tuberculosis programs since the programs’ inception.
“We cannot declare victory yet. Far from it. Only one-half of the 37 million people in the world living with HIV are receiving treatment. Globally, young women are twice as likely to acquire HIV as their male counterparts. One million people still died from AIDS-related illnesses worldwide in 2016. And let us not forget that people here in the United States are not immune. In Maryland, for instance, the most recent data indicate that in 2016 almost 36,000 people were living with HIV/AIDS and the State had the fifth highest rate of new HIV infections in the country.
“For the past 15 years, Congress has shown strong commitment and moral leadership by providing robust funding for PEPFAR and regularly reauthorizing the program. Signals from the Trump administration, however, indicate that this partnership may be fraying, putting lives and epidemic control at-risk.
“President Trump’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 budget request proposed cutting funding for PEPFAR and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis & Malaria by more than one billion dollars. These cuts, if enacted, could deny life-saving treatment to men, women, and children. These cuts, if enacted, could halt our progress to achieving epidemic control. These cuts, if enacted, will harm millions of people.
“Congress must remain resolved not only to protect our investment, but to continue building on our progress thus far.
“I call on the Trump administration to join us in facing the challenge of HIV/AIDS head-on, without politics and without posturing, as we consider PEPFAR reauthorization. The administration’s proposal to extend the Mexico City policy, often referred to as the “global gag rule,” may hamstring the very organizations providing life-saving prevention, detection, and treatment services.
“The Trump administration’s proposal to cut tuberculosis (TB) funding by more than 25 percent, if enacted, will further frustrate efforts to raise resources to combat this global killer; TB is the world’s leading infectious disease killer and is the primary cause of death for people co-infected with HIV/AIDS. Instead of proposing cuts, the Trump administration should be demonstrating continued support for the Global Fund for AIDS, Tuberculosis & Malaria. The Global Fund has saved 22 million lives since it was established. Currency fluctuations are complicating U.S. contributions to the Global Fund and, according to some estimates, could lead to U.S. funding being cut by up to $450 million in FY 2019. We absolutely cannot allow such a thing to happen.
“Mr. President, World AIDS Day should be a day of sober commemoration; but it should also be a day of hope. Success in the fight against HIV/AIDS is within our grasp.
“Amid today’s tweetstorms and controversies, it’s easy to overlook the fact that when this body is at its best, it has the power to change the course of history. Success is possible. Cutting funding now – shrinking from our commitment now, instead of sustaining it – will negate the investments and progress we have made so far. We owe it to people like Simon, to their families, and to millions of others dealing with the scourge of HIV/AIDS to keep working toward a world free of the disease.”
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