Thank you, Donald Trump Jr., for “triggering” us to realize what still needs to be done to reach your father’s goal of ending the HIV Epidemic in the next 10 years (something which he announced in his State of the Union address on February 5, 2019). Thank you for providing us information on where the proposed $291 million should be going to make this goal a reality. From the bottom of my liberal heart, thank you.
Before reading the Queerty article titled “What you stand to lose by not having sex with people with HIV”, to which Trump Jr retweeted with the comment, “Well, I can think of one thing,” I was also unaware of the extent of scientific progress made to ensure those with HIV live fulfilling lives. I was also unaware of the scientific progress made in ensuring the partners and lovers of those with HIV also live fulfilling lives. Clearly, we are not alone.
Scrolling through the 2.9K comments on Queerty’s article, I was surprised by the many willing and ready to jump on the bandwagon of stigmatizing and shaming a health-related issue. Polluted with reactive memes that continue to play on jokes about AIDS from a 2005 episode of Family Guy, and internet versions of the “face-palm” expression, it is clear that a significant portion of society is still dumbfounded that those with HIV can still engage in sexual intercourse. Thanks to your response and the responses of others, it is clear that we not only need to allocate funds to ensure those affected by HIV can afford life-saving medication, we also need to allocate funds to increase education on HIV.
I am a firm believer that ignorance is a societal problem rooted in what has or has not been learned. I ignorantly thought your father was the devil in disguise. Apparently, he has actually advocated for the human rights which you blatantly disregarded in your twitter response to Queerty’s article despite having stated in your “best-selling book” Triggered, that “conservatives usually get worked up over important things” like “the stripping of our rights as human beings”.
By using your prince throne of power, Twitter, to stigmatize a group that your father has actually tried to defend, not only are you disrespecting your father (whom you assert you “respect the heck out of” in your book), you are stripping away the human rights of those affected by HIV. By assuming those with HIV should not engage in sexual intercourse, you are being ignorant of the human rights such as the right to social protection, to an adequate standard of living, to the highest attainable standards of physical and mental well-being, as well as the right to education and the enjoyment of benefits of cultural freedom and scientific progress.
Science has made a lot of progress since the HIV/AIDS epidemic first emerged in 1981. Sex and HIV/AIDS education has made a lot of progress since then, as well. I think it’s time we get caught up (with the help of an HIV.gov timeline I highly recommend you check out.)
Medical Progress in HIV/AIDS
In 1987, the FDA approved the antiretroviral drug AZT (zidovudine) as the first medication to treat HIV/AIDS. This drug reduces the ability of the virus to replicate itself. In 1990, the FDA extended the approval of AZT to pediatric use.
In 1991, the FDA released a diagnostic kit that can test for HIV-1 in 10 minutes (similar but more advanced rapid tests which were approved in 2002 are utilized in many healthcare practices and public health organizations today. Boulder County AIDS Project provides rapid testing services free of charge).
By 1994, the U.S. Public Health Service recommended pregnant mothers take AZT to prevent transmission of HIV to the baby.
The following year, 1995, the FDA approved the first protease inhibitor, Saquinavir, which prevents viral replication. Used in combination with AZT, this medication approval provided “some of the most hopeful news in years for people living with AIDS” according to that year’s HHS Secretary Donna E. Shalala.
By 1996, new cases of diagnosed AIDS decreased for the first time since the start of the epidemic; the medication and education were working. That year, the FDA approved many advances in HIV prevention/detection including viral load tests that measure the level of HIV in the blood. Science has since discovered that HIV is non-transmittable below a certain viral load level.
The following year, 1997, the FDA approved Combivir, a drug that combines two drugs proven highly effective when taken together into one tablet.
By 2009, 100 drugs had been approved to treat HIV, and in 2010, a vaginal microbicide proved to be effective in reducing the risk of new HIV infection in women by 54 percent. Men also reaped the benefits of medical advances that year with studies that showed PrEP effective in reducing the risk of HIV infection in males by 44 percent. PrEP was to be officially approved by the FDA two years later in 2012. In the meantime, a 2011 Center for Disease Control (CDC) study found the first evidence that a daily, oral dose of antiretroviral drugs can reduce HIV acquisition among those exposed to the virus.
In 2012, the first HIV-infected child was functionally cured. That same year, two patients with HIV became virus-free after going through bone marrow transplants.
The first observational study that focuses on the risk of sexual transmission between an HIV positive partner and an uninfected partner took place in 2014. During this study, there was no transmission of HIV from an HIV-positive partner who was taking antiretroviral drugs and who had an undetectable viral load. After a decade-long clinical trial, researchers reported in 2015 that antiretroviral therapy had proven to be effective in preventing HIV transmission from partner to partner during sex (when the viral load is undetectable). During 2015, the World Health Organization advocated for the use of antiretroviral therapy amongst those with HIV and daily oral PrEP for those at risk.
Bringing us to 2019, this past January, scientists funded by the National Institutes of Health announced a new tool that measures the success of HIV treatment strategies, and in March the second person ever was cured of HIV.
So, what have the past 39 years of medical and scientific advances taught us about HIV?
HIV is not a death sentence. Sex with a person diagnosed with HIV is not a death sentence.
Sex Education on HIV
In 1986, Surgeon General C. Everett Koop stated, “There is no doubt that we need sex education in schools and that it must include information on heterosexual and homosexual relationships” … “at the lowest grade possible,” which was later specified as third grade.
Something which I imagine you, Donald Trump Jr., would have opposed with abhorrence, given your recent tweets on sex education in elementary schools. I digress, but “I’m just making arguments, backing them up with facts, and putting them out into the world” (Trump, 2019, p. 9).
Regarding his advisement of comprehensive, sexual education, Surgeon General Koop stated, “we have to be as explicit as necessary to get the message across. You can’t talk about the dangers of snake poisoning and not mention snakes.” Similarly, you can’t talk about snake bites without mentioning what to do when you get bit by a snake; you can’t talk about having a boa constrictor as a pet without talking about safety tips. We can’t talk about HIV/AIDs without talking about what to do if infected. We also can’t talk about HIV/AIDS without talking about how to keep yourself healthy while in a relationship with someone who is HIV-positive.
By 1993, 47 States mandated sex ed, and all states were educated about HIV. I imagine the private schools attended by the Trump Jr. children did not fall into this statistic, reminding us that private school education can still lead to ignorance, especially when topics are negligently overlooked, which private schools have the option to do in contrast to public schools, which must abide by mandated standards.
Between 2000 and 2014, the percentage of U.S. schools that mandated HIV education dropped from 64 percent to 41 percent.
By 2016, there were only 34 states that mandated HIV education and data shows that an estimated 50 percent of young Americans living with HIV did not know they were infected.
A 2017 Kaiser Family Foundation National Survey of Young Adults on HIV/AIDS found that of the young adults (19-30 years old) surveyed, 51 percent would feel uncomfortable having a roommate who is HIV positive; 58 percent would feel uncomfortable eating food prepared by someone HIV positive, and more than half had the false understanding that HIV can be transmitted through saliva or kissing. This stigma may prevent young people from being tested, disclosing their HIV status, and obtaining healthcare.
Under-education on HIV for young adults is becoming a frightening norm which is influencing the frighteningly undereducated comments displayed in both Trump Jr.’s Twitter response to Queerty’s article amongst other responders.
Love Will Always Trump Hate
To conclude, I request that you, Donald Trump Jr., follow in the lead of others who have spoken within the White House walls offering an action plan for destigmatizing HIV and supporting the health of all,
Dr. Amy Lansky said in 2016, “We can rightfully celebrate that we now have an array of effective tools to prevent new infections, diagnose them, and care for people living with HIV. Yet, the great effectiveness of these tools is too often blunted due to persistent, HIV-related stigma and discrimination. We know from studies as well as countless personal stories that HIV-related stigma inhibits far too many people from accessing HIV prevention, testing, and care, even today. Clearly, in order to end the epidemic, we must combat stigma and discrimination.”
While you’re at it, check out your dad’s HIV action plan, Ending the HIV Epidemic: A Plan for America.