Donald Trump’s hardline immigration policies are discouraging migrants seeking HIV treatment, a leading expert has claimed, as a new report showed infection rates among some Latino communities soaring by as much as 30 per cent.
A report published by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) claimed the battle against HIV in the US has “stalled” in recent years, after a period of steady decline. Latest figures show there are 39,000 new infections every year.
The report, published three weeks after Mr Trump announced a plan to end the HIV epidemic by 2030, showed that among white gay and bisexual men, infection rates decreased by 16 per cent. Among black gay and bisexual men, they remained stable. However, among Latino gay and bisexual men, infection rates increased by more than 30 per cent.
“Now is the time for our nation to take bold action. We strongly support President Trump’s plan to end the HIV epidemic in America,” said CDC director Robert Redfield.
At least one prominent expert believes Mr Trump’s policies are making the situation worse. While the data contained in the CDC report was collected from 2010-16, before Mr Trump became president, there is said to be evidence his hardline policies on immigration are discouraging some of the most vulnerable groups from getting treatment.
Carlos del Rio, professor of global health at Atlanta’s Emory University, told The Independent he had seen persuasive evidence that HIV outreach among migrant and Latino communities had become more difficult since the president took office. He said it appeared many people were “keeping their heads low”.
“That is why, while I welcome the president’s proposal [to tackle HIV], his other policies are impacting people,” said Mr Del Rio, a member of the leadership team of Fast-Track Cities, a global, United Nations-backed initiative to tackle HIV. “It is good to have lofty goals, but those other policies are impacting that effort.”
The CDC data showed that after falling for a number of years, the total number of infection rates leveled off from 2013-2016. “We are not making any progress since 2013,” said Mr Del Rio. “And that report is the big picture. When you look locally, you see there are big increases in some areas.”
The report showed that of the new infections, around 20,000 were recorded in the southern US.
The CDC said it estimated “the decline in HIV infections has plateaued because effective HIV prevention and treatment are not adequately reaching those who could most benefit from them”. It added: “These gaps remain particularly troublesome in rural areas and in the South and among disproportionately affected populations like African-Americans and Latinos.”
The Independent and its sister paper, the Evening Standard, recently partnered with the Elton John Aids Foundation to highlight the ongoing fight against HIV, three decades after the development of an effective treatment.
In the US, it reported how one in two black gay men will become infected with HIV during their lifetimes, a statistic created by a combination of a lack of education, homophobia and systemic racism.
Infection rates in cities such as Atlanta, Georgia, which the CDC is based, are as bad as those in southern Africa. The CDC did not immediately respond to enquiries.
In his State on the Union address, Mr Trump said the country had made remarkable progress, but he said he wanted it to do even more.
“My budget will ask Democrats and Republicans to make the needed commitment to eliminate the HIV epidemic in the United States within 10 years,” he said. “Together, we will defeat Aids in America.”
Sir Elton John welcomed Mr Trump’s proposal, but also urged that efforts to tackle HIV in the US did not take from resources the US invested in such efforts elsewhere around the world.
“I applaud President Trump’s announcement of a renewed commitment to ending the Aids epidemic in the United States,” he said previously. “While we have made tremendous progress in reducing new infections and reaching those who are at risk or HIV positive with lifesaving testing and treatment services, the epidemic in the US is far from over.”
He added: “While early epicentres like San Francisco and New York have seen dramatic declines in the incidence of HIV in recent years, the epidemic in the southern United States still rages on, particularly among young black men who have sex with men.”
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