At Risk: Can Funders Preserve Momentum in the AIDS Fight?

Recently, Inside Philanthropy interviewed FCAA Executive Director, John Barnes and Director of Operations, Sarah Hamilton about the role of private HIV and AIDS funders in this uncertain political climate.

As they geared up for an annual summit to be held just weeks after the 2016 election, the folks at Funders Concerned About AIDS (FCAA) expected one result. They got another. And while funder affinity groups across the board have been giving Trump’s presidency close attention, FCAA sees a particularly tough fight ahead. John Barnes, who leads FCAA, told me: “An end to AIDS isn’t possible under current Trump priorities, and we risk losing decades of investment.”

How did it come to that, and what are FCAA and its members doing to marshal philanthropic support in an uncertain time? According to Barnes and his colleague Sarah Hamilton, who heads operations at FCAA, it all comes down to advocacy.

Thirty years ago, when the affinity group got its start, the initial AIDS crisis was in full swing and federal will was inadequate to the task of containing the disease. Through successful advocacy and a rapidly widening field of philanthropic supporters, FCAA enabled what has become an international fight many billions of dollars in scope.

According to Barnes, the Trump presidency could seriously undermine that effort. By defunding programs like the President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and reinstating the “global gag rule” on federal aid to international family planning programs, the current administration risks perpetuating a disease to which “the end was in sight.” The United States currently plays a leadership role in the international fight against HIV/AIDS, and Barnes believes Trump may very well step away from that role.

While philanthropy only makes up a sliver of the total funds disbursed to fight HIV/AIDS (the bulk is government funding), it’s a key means of leverage. Unrestricted funds for advocacy—even if they only comprise 2 percent of total anti-AIDS funding—can have huge sway by determining where the other 98 percent goes. Research dollars can also move the needle, so long as the fruits of that research are deployed well.

To article, in its entirety, is available here.