U.S. President Donald Trump used his State of the Union address to call for the eradication of HIV and AIDS in the U.S. within 10 years, but critics say his administration’s policies have hurt the fight against the disease.
Speaking to a joint session of Congress during his State of the Union address, Trump said the U.S. could be free of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that causes AIDS within a decade if he secures funding under his national budget.
“In recent years we have made remarkable progress in the fight against HIV and AIDS. Scientific breakthroughs have brought a once-distant dream within reach,” Trump said. “My budget will ask Democrats and Republicans to make the needed commitment to eliminate the HIV epidemic in the United States within 10 years.
“We have made incredible strides, incredible,” he continued. “Together, we will defeat AIDS in America and beyond.”
Trump had been widely expected to announce a drive to eliminate HIV transmissions by 2030, with many critics accusing him of hypocrisy even before Tuesday’s address.
Prior to the speech, the largest LGBTQ rights lobby group in the U.S. took the Trump administration’s record on HIV to task.
“If this administration wants to combat the spread of HIV, they need to immediately end their efforts to cut Medicaid funding, undermine the Affordable Care Act and license discrimination against the most at-risk communities when they seek healthcare,” said David Stacy, director of government affairs at the Human Rights Campaign (HRC).
“This administration simply cannot achieve this goal while, at the same time, charging forward with attacks on health care for the communities most impacted by HIV. The American public deserves a real commitment from their government to end the HIV epidemic.”
WATCH: President Donald Trump enters House chamber to deliver State of the Union address
The organization pointed out that the White House in 2017 proposed a federal budget that would have cut funding for global HIV-prevention programs by over $1 billion.
Later that year, Trump fired all the members of his presidential advisory council on HIV/AIDS, the Washington Post reported.
This past December, the magazine of the American Association for the Advancement of Science reported that the Trump administration blocked scientists from acquiring fetal tissue for experiments related to AIDS.
One of the experiments was using fetal tissue — donated by women who had legal abortions — to investigate how HIV affects human tissues.
WATCH: Trump says he’ll push to prohibit late-term abortion
Vice President Mike Pence’s record on AIDS has also come under scrutiny in recent years, as he presided over the worst outbreak of the disease in the history of the state of Indiana during his tenure as governor.
A 2017 study in the journal AIDS and Behavior said Pence “fueled the HIV outbreak by prohibiting needle/syringe exchange and failed to take substantive action once the outbreak was identified.”
It added that Pence “chose stagnation on the basis of moral superiority, while thousands of his constituents senselessly risked exposure to HIV.”
Following Trump’s State of the Union address, several Democratic lawmakers took to Twitter to accuse him of hypocrisy.
Over a million people in the U.S. are living with HIV, according to U.S. government statistic, with about 40,000 new cases of HIV infection each year.
Senior public health officials say Trump’s campaign to end the HIV epidemic will focus on areas where about half of new HIV cases occur. That includes 48 counties, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, and seven states with at-risk rural residents.
Around 37 million people around the world have HIV, according to a 2018 report by United Nations’ HIV/AIDS body UNAIDS.
— With a file from the Associated Press