Jesse Milan Jr., president and CEO of AIDS United, met with the Senate Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee Wednesday to layout the organization’s legislative priorities. Here are his opening remarks, as prepared for delivery:
Thank you. It is an honor to speak with you again.
Last year when we met, we were commemorating the 40th anniversary of the HIV epidemic. This year, I am commemorating a personal milestone: 2022 marks my 40th year living with HIV.
As I reach this anniversary, I hold close to my heart the 700,000 people in the United States who have died from HIV. But, I am also overjoyed that the community of long-term survivors is growing.
In the last few years, there have been significant medical breakthroughs that allow those of us living with HIV to live long and healthy lives and tools to prevent anyone from ever acquiring HIV.
They include multi-dose pills and new injectable regimes. These are making HIV treatments easier to take, which will lead to greater adherence, and that will help more people reach an undetectable viral load so that we never develop or die from AIDS.
Undetectable also stops HIV transmission because an undetectable status means that the amount of HIV virus in a person’s blood is so low that it can’t be detected in laboratory tests. When that happens, you cannot pass the virus along to anyone else sexually. So undetectable equals untransmittable, or U equals U and that is truly great news.
And there’s also PrEP, which is a medicine that prevents HIV. It’s extremely effective.
Couple these medical advances with interventions like housing, food, clean syringes and stigma reduction, and we have all the tools necessary to end the HIV epidemic.
But here’s what we’re lacking: the political will to get it done.
That’s where we need your help. Indeed, my ability to stand here today, 40 years after contracting HIV, is directly related to the decisions you make.
President Biden has set the tone with his update to the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, which is a huge step forward.
We were also delighted to see the president propose a new national PrEP program. It’s a visionary proposal, but we need your support to get it started. We’re urging you to appropriate $400 million for the program’s first year. And we need your support for the $10 billion over the next 10 years that the president has proposed as necessary to assure the program’s success for ending the epidemic.
Medicaid accounts for nearly a third of all federal spending on HIV. It’s a vital part of HIV care. We must protect and expand the program. Let me be clear in this Pride Month, low income people who do not have children, who are either living with HIV or are vulnerable to HIV are substantially LGBTQ. They are especially gay men and tranwomen of color. But private insurance is too often out of their reach. That’s why expanding Medicaid coverage to them will help save their lives.
And I’m proud to say that I’ve reached the age where I’m staring Medicare in the eye. Soon, a majority of people living with HIV will also be Medicare age. But is Medicare ready for us? No.
Are senior services ready for us? No. We urge you to amend the Older Americans Act to designate people living with HIV as a community of greatest social need.
Ryan White still fills the gap for HIV-related health services that support and help save our lives. Full funding for the Ryan White program is crucial.
And the HOPWA program continues having an enormous funding gap. Too many of our people are housing insecure, and we hope that you will address this.
While appropriations are critical, we need you to help to preserve the 340B program. It is an enormously significant source of revenue to provide HIV-related services not supported by federal dollars.
And Stigma still fuels the HIV epidemic.
The wave of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation coming out of states is increasing stigma and endangering our lives. We need you to pass the Equality Act.
HIV criminalization laws remain on the books in 30 states. They are a major source of stigma that discourage people from knowing their status and getting in care. The REPEAL HIV Discrimination Act would significantly help stamp out these antiquated laws .
Stigma around sex work needs to go too. Sex workers are vulnerable to HIV. The Safe Sex Workers Study Act would help to prove that.
And stigma around drug use still gets in the way of the lifesaving, HIV-preventing work of syringe services programs. Congress must end the ban on federal dollars for the purchase of syringes.
And, we need your support for America’s continuing leadership investment in addressing the global HIV epidemic.
Finally, I mentioned political will. The January 6 hearings this week remind me to thank you for your bravery and for your will to help preserve and defend our Contstitution’s electoral process. The Constitution calls for protecting the lives and liberties of all of us — and that includes people living with and vulnerable to HIV. That’s why we’re counting on your leadership for ending the HIV epidemic.