WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden unveiled on Wednesday a strategy for combating HIV/AIDS that the administration says will focus on the growing population of people with HIV who are aging, along with other changes.
More than half of the 1.2 million people in the USA who are living with HIV are over age 50.
The plan will recognize racism as a health threat, expand the focus on addressing issues such as homelessness that make it hard to fight HIV/AIDS and encourage reform of state HIV criminalization laws.
“This is one area where we can get a lot more done, quickly,” Biden said at a White House event recognizing World AIDS Day.
He said the goal of ending HIV transmission is “within striking distance.”
As in past years, a giant red ribbon was hung on the north portico of the White House.
Biden said the ribbon is to remember how much progress has been made and to “never forget the price that’s paid all along the way.”
“Think how much has changed,” Biden said, recalling how the Rev. Jerry Falwell called AIDS “God’s punishment for homosexuals.”
“You all demanded – demanded – to be treaty with dignity and with equity,” Biden told those gathered in the East Room for the event. “We’re going to finish this fight.”
More than 36 million people, including 700,000 Americans, have died from AIDS-related illness since the first known case of AIDS was reported 40 years ago.
Though modern HIV treatment has allowed those infected to live longer, there’s an increased need to tailor services to older Americans with HIV/AIDS. That includes addressing health and psycho-social needs often associated with aging, according to the administration.
For example, the plan calls for increasing HIV awareness among providers of housing, substance use treatment and other medical services for older adults.
Age-related complications such as cardiovascular disease, lung disease, cancers and other ailments are more common in people living with HIV over age 50 than they are among people of the same age without HIV.
Long-term survivors of HIV often experience social isolation, loneliness and a lack of social support, as well as HIV- and age-related stigma, according to the administration.
For all people of all ages with HIV, the administration wants to take a more coordinated and integrated approach across federal agencies. That could help address issues such as food insecurity and housing instability that put people at risk for HIV and impede treatment.
In Biden’s 2022 budget request, he asked Congress for a $20 million bump in funding for housing assistance and supportive services for low-income people with HIV.
The administration hopes to engage the private sector in new ways, such as using social media to combat misinformation and the stigma around HIV.
Biden said many states have laws that don’t reflect an accurate understanding of HIV, including that it can’t be transmitted through saliva.
“There are still laws in the books that criminalize spitting by people with HIV. I mean, this is 2021, the United States of America,” Biden said. “We have to follow science, and that means eliminating laws that perpetuate discrimination, exacerbate disparities, discourage HIV testing and take us further away from our goal.”
Maureen Groppe has covered Washington for nearly three decades and is a White House correspondent for USA TODAY. Follow her on Twitter @mgroppe.