‘Not the time’ to not pay attention to HIV, local leaders say
DAVID TAFFET | Senior Staff Writer
Six members of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA) resigned in June 2017. On Dec. 30, President Donald Trump sent a letter to the remaining 10 members of PACHA dismissing them.
Scott A. Schoettes, Lambda Legal Counsel and HIV project director and one of the six council members who resigned in June, wrote in Newsweek at the time: “The Trump administration has no strategy to address the on-going HIV/AIDS epidemic, seeks zero input from experts to formulate HIV policy, and — most concerning — pushes legislation that will harm people living with HIV and halt or reverse important gains made in the fight against this disease.”
None of those who resigned in June were replaced, and no one has been nominated to replace those just fired.
“This matters because HIV is alive and well,” Resource Center CEO Cece Cox said of the firings. “Tens of thousands of people are still diagnosed with HIV every year.”
The council had strategy set through the year 2020 with the goal being a cure for HIV. But Cox said she is concerned that, going forward, the administration’s decisions on HIV policy won’t be based on science. And, she added, she isn’t sure if the administration is keeping things quietly on track or simply ignoring the situation.
“Just not putting out information is damaging,” Cox said. “We have to keep educating new generations of youth.”
While Cox said she worried about a lack of attention to the issue, she hasn’t seen any change of policy.
“It’s been pretty quiet,” Cox said. “We haven’t received any alerts on drastic change.”
But with no website from the Office of National AIDS Policy and, now, no council advising the secretary of Health and Human Services, Cox is concerned the public won’t get the latest information on the pandemic, nor will those tasked with setting public policy be able to make informed decisions.
“I hope this doesn’t signal a complete lack of attention to HIV,” she said.
Prism Health CEO John Carlo was a little more optimistic. “This may not be as bad as it seems,” he said.
“It’s not unusual for a president to discharge members of an advisory council to put in his own people,” Carlo said. “The manner it was done was unfortunate.”
He noted that those who were dismissed are eligible to reapply, although those who resigned in June are not.
While Presidents Bush and Obama replaced members of the council with their own appointees, both allowed members appointed by their predecessors to finish their terms.
Carlo was more concerned with a lack of leadership in the Office of National AIDS Policy, where the first national AIDS strategy was created during Obama’s first term in office. But, he noted, Trump has indicated interest in continuing AIDS policies that fund research, education and care and hasn’t slashed Ryan White funding.
With the firing of the current council, Carlo said we should look for something to happen soon, whether it’s the appointment of new council members, a re-invigoration of the Office of National AIDS Policy — or something else.
With thousands of new cases of HIV reported each year and new treatments in various stages of trial, Carlo said, “This is not the time to be winding down.”
PACHA was created in 1995 during the Clinton administration, at a time when medication to treat HIV was being tested and first coming on the market. Since its creation, its job has been to provide expert information and make recommendations to the secretary of Health and Human Services about treatments, prevention programs and the search for a cure for HIV.
Each president has made his own appointments to the council but has generally allowed previous appointees to finish their four-year terms.
The council that was just disbanded was made up of doctors and researchers, educators, people fighting the disease in the faith community and people living with HIV.
The Office of National AIDS Policy, created in 1993, also during the Clinton administration, has been without a leader since Trump took office, and the office’s website disappeared from the internet the day Trump was sworn in.