Six members of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS resigned from the board, claiming that Trump doesn’t care about HIV. The Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA) is a president-appointed group of health professionals tasked with advising the Secretary of Health and Human Services –and finally the President- on how to promote the best HIV prevention strategies and treatment.
The members resigned on June 16, claiming that the Trump administration has no strategy to address the HIV/AIDS epidemic, it does not seek input from experts to formulate HIV policy, and he pushes legislation that will harm people living with HIV, possibly halting or reversing important gains made in the fight against the disease.
Members who resigned HIV/AIDS advisory board say the American Health Care Act will worsen the epidemic
Scott Schoettes, counsel and HIV Project Director at Lambda Legal, released the reasons for his resignation in a letter published by Newsweek. PACHA is made up by 18 members, meaning the Council was left with 12 specialists only. However, not all the members of PACHA felt that resigning was the most efficient way to go.
“I choose to believe that through our various networks, and whatever means we have, the council will somehow help reason and science to prevail,” said Dr. Ada Adimora, a professor of medicine at the University of North Carolina and a PACHA member who decided to stay, according to Time.
The resignations were also fueled by the American Health Act Care (AHCA), which may make health care access for people with pre-existing medical conditions more difficult and that could prevent many people with HIV from receiving proper medication.
Schoettes said that it was evident that the Trump administration was not going to engage that advisory body or anyone else in formulating new legislation. He added that the bill was drafted without consultation from many health care leaders, including those who work with HIV. Schoettes noted that the AHCA would have a devastating effect on people living with HIV, and he decided he could no longer be part of that or be effective from within an administration that “wasn’t willing to listen.”
Schoettes expects to advocate for good HIV policies from the outside
Lucy Bradley-Springer also resigned from PACHA this week. Bradley-Springer is a recently retired associate professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.
“As soon as the election happened, I started having concerns,” said Bradley-Springer, who is also the editor of the Journal of the Association of Nurses in AIDS Care, according to Time. “I knew health care was going to suffer. Because of what I had heard during the campaign, it gave me reasons to worry about the health care of the entire country, but especially of people living with HIV.”
Schoettes wrote in the letter that he believes they will be more effective from the outside, as they will advocate for change and protest policies that will hurt the health of the communities they serve and the country as a whole if the administration continues down the current path.
The members of PACHA who stayed behind are also concerned about the Trump administration’s policies on HIV and AIDS. Adimora noted that the policies prompted by that administration, including the substantial Medicaid budget cuts, are “grossly antagonistic” to the health of the people living with HIV. She added that those policies go directly against the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, which was developed by the Obama administration to control the HIV epidemic in the country by improving HIV testing and access to life-saving medication.
‘Anything that threatens health care access is a threat to public health in general’
Adimora explained that these drugs are effective not only because they treat people who are infected with the virus, but also because they lower HIV levels in infected people so that they are far less likely to pass the virus to others.
According to Adimora, cuts in Medicaid budget will directly affect people living with the virus, as over 40 percent of people who are HIV positive rely on Medicaid for health care treatment and services.
“Anything that threatens health care access is a threat to people with HIV and a threat to public health in general,” said Adimora, according to Time. “What is keeping the epidemic at bay in the U.S. is access to care, which includes access to drugs and clinicians. It’s not that the virus is becoming less virulent.”
From inside PACHA, Adimora expects to impact some of the policies being pursued by the Trump administration. She said there is no clear strategy yet for convincing the administration to shift its position, but she plans to push and advocate for the goals set by the Obama administration in the National HIV/AIDS Strategy.
She added that if people communicate with their legislators, and make it clear exactly how damaging these policies are, then reason will prevail.