Trump’s decision to fire AIDS Council is worrisome
Almost going unnoticed last week was President Donald Trump firing the remaining 16 members of the national AIDS council before the year ended without explanation and via FEDEX mail.
This is emblematic of the administration’s commitment to the fight against AIDS, and has drawn criticism from LGBT advocates as well as legislators from both the Democratic and Republican parties.
What happened to the AIDS Council?
The members of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS were doctors, business leaders, and others with the responsibility of making policy recommendations to the president.
While Trump has not named replacements to the council yet, he also hasn’t appointed a director to the White House Office of National AIDS Policy.
This comes at a bad time given an opioid epidemic is threatening to spread the virus with intravenous drug users.
Likewise, six members of the advisory panel had resigned the summer of 2017 to protest Trump’s policies like the rollback of Obamacare coverage that would hurt those with HIV/AIDS.
Government officials said the move by the President is standard operating procedure to clear appointees of the previous administration and put in their handpicked choices.
“I am fearful that the people who are appointed will be in line with the current philosophy of the administration,” said Lucy Bradley-Springer, associate professor of the University of Colorado Denver’s Division of Infectious Diseases.
Bradley-Spring was one of the advisory council members who resigned this summer.
“The question for many is, what was the precipitating event for this change now? And, does this signal a retreat from the National HIV/AIDS Strategy or evidence-based policy making,” Jeff Crowley, director of the Office of National AIDS Policy for the Obama administration, told POLITICO.
In defense of the AIDS Council
While officials have said previous members can reapply again to their positions in the council, Trump’s actions have drawn concern from all quarters.
“This White House has to recognize that it must take on a leadership role, as President Bush did, in eliminating the scourge of HIV/AIDS in this generation,” Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, co-chair of the Congressional HIV/AIDS Caucus, said in an email to POLITICO.
“For decades, presidents of both parties have relied on PACHA to develop effective, evidence-based federal HIV/AIDS policy,” Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee , co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on HIV/AIDS, told POLITICO.
“With an end to AIDS nearly in our grasp, now is not the time to reverse our progress,” Lee said.
Federal figures show an an estimated 37,600 new HIV infections in 2014, down by 18 percent from 2008. However, by end of 2015, there are still currently an estimated 1.1 million people in the US were living with HIV.
Erasing the LGBT people
Lawyer Scott Schoettes of Lambda Legal and also a member of the council who resigned last June, told Washington Post that Trump’s action removes the LGBT voice in policy-making in terms of addressing the HIV/AIDS virus.
“In his first year in office, President Trump has made a continuous effort to erase LGBTQ people and people living with HIV from the fabric of our country,” said Sarah Ellis, president and chief executive of GLAAD.
Another council member, Gabriel Maldonado, who is the executive director of the LGBT HIV group Truevolution, told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow: “To put political ideology or partisanship at the forefront in the decision-making is not only damaging to the work that we have done but it’s also stagnating for advancing the lives and health outcomes of those of us living with HIV and the communities hardest impacted.”
“Most new administrations appoint their own councils early in their terms, not after almost a year in office,” William McColl, AIDS United vice president for policy and advocacy, told The Fix.