The federal government is being quite consistent in its attacks on science and research, but you’d think that the President – who is easily distracted by all the television he claims not to watch – would give things a rest over the Christmas break. Not so.
Hot on the heels of taking a shot at climate science, it’s now being reported across several outlets – including the LGBTQ-focused newspaper, the Washington Blade – that he’s terminated all members of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA).
In a manner entirely lacking in any dignity, they were apparently notified that they had been fired by FedEx letter. No explanation was given.
Although it's not unusual for advisory boards to be changed around a bit when a new administration comes in, the timing and nature of these mass dismissals has caused deep concern, particularly considering how HIV research has repeatedly been targeted for cuts by the White House.
PACHA, formed back in 1995 by President Bill Clinton, was designed to augment the government when it came to treating the ongoing AIDS epidemic, as well as to suggest future pathways for researching and preventing the spread of HIV. It was often seen as the spiritual successor to a similar committee set up by President Ronald Reagan – someone not exactly lauded for his efforts to handle the crisis – back in 1987.
The source of the news appears to be Scott Schoettes, a senior attorney and the project director at Lambda Legal, a legal organization assisting LGBTQ+ people who are HIV positive. A former member of PACHA, he tweeted in the last 24 hours that the remaining members of the already dwindling council had been “booted” by the president.
Trump has presided over the destruction of several Presidential Advisory Councils, including a business-themed variant that he himself set up in the first place. It seems that he’s immune from taking any advice from people who don’t agree with him or his behavior, and PACHA was no exception to this.
Back in June of this year, six members of PACHA, including Schoettes, resigned. In an op-ed in Newsweek, they explained that the Trump administration has no strategy when it comes to HIV/AIDS, and they aren’t listening to any of their advice. The President, they said, "simply does not care".
Now, it appears that PACHA – although still technically intact – is bereft of any advisors whatsoever. No official statement from the White House has been made at the time of writing, and they did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Despite the incredible advances researchers have made when it comes to treating the global affliction, HIV/AIDS remains a pervasive, dangerous health problem. According to government statistics, over 1.1 million Americans are HIV positive today, and one in seven of them aren’t aware of it. Despite declines in infections, tens of thousands are diagnosed with the infection every single year.
It’s difficult to see how dismantling PACHA, which featured some of the nation’s best medical experts and advocates, will lead to an improvement in this regard.
Vulnerable demographics, including those requiring treatment for HIV, are quite clearly being brushed aside by the Trump administration. All attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), for example, would have had severe impacts on the poor, elderly, and already ill. Both at home and abroad, programs working on HIV/AIDS were up for drastic downsizing.
Aside from a few blog posts, barely any attention has been given to HIV/AIDS, and those involved in fighting the epidemic have said that they feel abandoned. Incidentally, the President himself hasn’t tweeted about HIV or AIDS once during his tenure.