Two weeks ago Bill Gates revealed Donald Trump had offered him the position of the President's science advisor. Gates decided this wasn't “a good use of [his] time”. Now he's probably written off any chance of getting the offer again, revealing just how tough the job will be if Trump ever does fill the position. According to Gates, the President doesn't know the difference between HIV and HPV, asking Gates to explain it twice.
It's true there is only one letter difference in their acronyms, and both have a terrible toll, but these two diseases are not very similar. Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) causes AIDS, and has killed an estimated 37 million people worldwide. Human papillomavirus (HPV) comes in widespread strains, some of them largely harmless, but others highly carcinogenic. Almost all cervical cancers and an estimated 266,000 annual deaths are the results of HPV infections, and the virus also accounts for a substantial portion of anal, vaginal, and oropharyngeal cancers.
So these are certainly important diseases to understand, particularly if you are the President of the most powerful nation on Earth, ultimately responsible for the world's largest research budget. It is also worth noting that since the majority of people who need life-saving treatments for these viruses can't afford them, it's important that those allocating the US aid budget know the difference. Many critics of Trump's Republican predecessor George W Bush regard his work to fund the provision of anti-HIV drugs for Africa as the solitary redeeming feature of his presidency.
Don't count on a repetition this time though, after Chris Hayes of MSNBC broadcast footage of Gates speaking at a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation meeting.
On the other hand, there was one area where Trump demonstrated his knowledge to Gates, notably the appearance of Gates' 22-year-old daughter Jennifer. Gates described as “scary” how much Trump seemed to have noticed the attractiveness of a woman less than a third his age.
Given Trump's boast that dodging STIs was “his personal Vietnam”, you'd think he might know a bit more about them.
Besides Trump's control over the purse strings, there is another way in which some knowledge of the topics would be helpful. Infection with the most dangerous strains of HPV can be prevented using the vaccines Gardasil and Cervarix, avoiding the formation of pre-cancerous lesions. However, widespread campaigns exaggerating the frequency and severity of Gardasil's side-effects, including a flawed study retracted just this week, have discouraged the take-up of these vaccines.
The President has the power to combat such myths, but Gates indicates he is instead under their influence, saying Trump was considering a commission on vaccine damage.