Today is World AIDS Day, an opportunity to celebrate achievements in the fight against AIDS – and remember that the fight is not over. We honor all of you who are a part of the movement, many of whom have been fighting for decades. We remember our friends and family that we have lost to AIDS-related illness. We commit to creating a future free of HIV stigma, where people can access the HIV prevention, treatment, and care services they need without fear.
The U.S. government’s theme for World AIDS Day 2023 is “Remember and Commit,” which highlights the critical need to reflect on what is holding us back from ending the HIV epidemic. Over 150,000 people are living with HIV in the U.S. and do not know it. More than 30,000 new HIV infections occur in the U.S. every year (CDC, 2023). How do we reach those who are still vulnerable to HIV infection today? How do we make HIV prevention, treatment and care easier for people to access and afford?
Our Founder, Elton John, and all of us at the Elton John AIDS Foundation urge government leaders to recommit to ending the HIV epidemic and fight the discrimination that keeps people from getting the HIV services they need to live the full lives they deserve.
Programs at Risk
The U.S. government’s theme for World AIDS Day 2023, “Remember and Commit,” is especially important as long standing and bipartisan U.S. government HIV programs – global and domestic – are under serious threat. The Elton John AIDS Foundation urges Congress to reauthorize the President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) for five more years, as it has done three times before. PEPFAR has saved more than 25 million lives and ensured that 5.5 million babies were born HIV free. It is now supporting more than half of the 30 million people currently on treatment. Extending PEPFAR for five additional years is not only essential for ending AIDS by 2030 but for preparing for the next inevitable pandemic.
In addition, the Foundation urges the US Congress to maintain current funding levels for HIV programs in the U.S., including the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program, the Ending the HIV Epidemic (EHE) Initiative, and the Minority HIV/AIDS Fund. In the U.S., the Ryan White HIV/AIDS program provides ART and surrounding HIV care to more than 500,000 people living with HIV every year. The EHE Initiative aims to reduce new HIV infections in the U.S. by 90% by 2030, and funds have been used to conduct more than 1.7 million HIV tests annually (CDC, 2023). The Minority HIV/AIDS Fund focuses on improving HIV prevention, treatment and care programs for racial and ethnic minorities in the U.S., who experience the greatest burden of disease (CDC, 2023). Funding for these programs cannot be cut – as they are vital to achieving a brighter and healthier future for people living with and affected by HIV in the U.S. and around the world.
The Need for a National PrEP Program
Existing programs aren’t enough – there is more we can and must do. We need to remember the most vulnerable communities who are still not accessing HIV services and commit to reaching them. For example, new data from the CDC indicate that 94% of White people who could benefit from pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) have been prescribed it, but only 13% of Black and 24% of Hispanic/Latino people who could benefit have been prescribed PrEP (CDC, 2023). This demonstrates that a different approach is needed to reach people more equitably. A national PrEP program in the U.S. would make that possible, and we need the U.S. to commit to bring this program to life.
Expanding HIV Services through Pharmacies
In addition, community-facing and accessible entry points to support testing, prevention, and linkage to care services must be expanded to reach people more effectively. We believe that investing in pharmacists – an incredible yet untapped resource in the HIV response – is key. People visit pharmacies significantly more often than their primary care provider, approximately 35 times each year. Pharmacies are readily available to a vast majority of the U.S. population, including those in rural and medically under-served areas. Community pharmacies have extended hours of operation enhancing accessibility, and as neutral settings, may be less stigmatizing for people seeking services. Imagine, if pharmacists could offer PrEP in the same way that they offer COVID testing and vaccines. Pharmacists can do so much more than dispense medication, and we must commit to expanding their ability to provide – and be paid – for HIV prevention.
At the Elton John AIDS Foundation, we are committed to investing in solutions that will increase access to services and improve health equity. This World AIDS Day, we need to band together and write to Congress to reauthorize PEPFAR; to fully fund the domestic HIV response including the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program, the Ending the HIV Epidemic Initiative, and the Minority HIV/AIDS Fund; and to establish a National PrEP Program at bit.ly/savehivfundingnow. It is still possible to end the HIV epidemic in the U.S. by 2030. Let’s do it together.