Donald Trump Just Said America Is About to Cure Childhood Cancer and AIDS. Science Suggests Otherwise

During Thursday night's rally in Cincinnati, President Donald Trump elicited a rapturous response from his supporters by claiming the U.S. is about to cure childhood cancer and end the AIDS epidemic.

The president provided no evidence to support the assertion, and did not explain how or when he expects these hugely significant milestones to be achieved. Though the crowd at the U.S Bank Arena were delighted by the president's promises, social media users and scientists were more skeptical.

"The things we're doing in our country today, there's never been anything like it," Trump told his adoring crowd. "We will be ending the AIDS epidemic shortly in America, and curing childhood cancer very shortly."

Both promises appear to have originated in Trump's 2019 State of the Union address, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer. Thursday's assertion was only the most recent pledge Trump has made on this front, though he did not provide a timeline and the vagueness of his statement leaves it somewhat open to interpretation.

According to Kaiser Health News, the cure rate for pediatric cancers in the U.S. is currently around 80 percent. However, with the exception of childhood leukemia, the cure rates have not budged in the past 20 years.

The American Cancer Society says that some 11,060 children in the U.S. younger than 15 will be diagnosed with cancer in 2019. The rates of new childhood cancers "have been rising slightly" for the past few decades, the organization added.

Trump just promised to cure the “AIDS epidemic shortly in America” and to cure childhood cancer “shortly”.

— Chenue Her (@ChenueHer) August 2, 2019

Trump—who critics have derided as an anti-science president—said in his State of the Union address that his administration would allocate $500 million for research into pediatric cancer over the next 10 years. But after the pledge, Kaiser said it is unclear "how meaningful the increase is in relation to current federal spending on childhood cancer research."

Current spending is believed to be around $462 million each year, so the extra $500 million spread across a decade amounts to a 10 percent annual increase.

Kaiser said this "pales in comparison to other medical research initiatives that previous presidents have outlined amid the pomp and circumstance of this annual speech." In his 2016 State of the Union, President Barack Obama's so-called "Cancer Moonshot" initiative proposed $1 billion over just two years to help cancer research.

Trump is not the only 2020 candidate to promise to cure cancer. Democratic hopeful Joe Biden said in June that if elected, "We're gonna cure cancer." Neither estimated how long it would take, but experts told that the key to boosting cancer research is more research funding.

At the State of the Union, Trump also set the goal of ending all HIV transmission in the U.S. by 2030. At the time, Kaiser described the achievement as "doable but daunting." Given the mammoth nature of the task, it seems unlikely that the Trump administration will have achieved the goal with more than 10 years to spare.

Some 1.1 million people in the U.S. are currently living with HIV. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, around 38,700 were newly infected in 2016. The number of new infections began to level off in 2013 at around 39,000 per year, following five consecutive years of significant decline.

After Trump's State of the Union, Dr. Kenneth Mayer—a medical research director at the Boston LGBT health center Fenway Institute—told Kaiser that bringing these numbers down is a complex challenge. "The reason we have an AIDS epidemic is not just for a lack of the medication," he said.

"There are a lot of social, structural, individual behavioral factors that may impact why people become infected, may impact if people who are infected engage in care and may impact or affect people who are at high risk of HIV."

Donald Trump, cancer, AIDS, cure, rally
President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally at U.S. Bank Arena on August 1, 2019 in Cincinnati, Ohio. Andrew Spear/Getty