On Wednesday, the Trump Administration reportedly dismissed the remaining members of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA) after those members warned that the president and vice president were “dangerous.”
Established by President Clinton in 1995, the purpose of the PACHA is to provide “advice, information, and recommendations to the Secretary [of HHS] regarding programs, policies, and research to promote effective treatment, prevention and cure of HIV disease and AIDS.”
This move by the Trump administration is yet another indication that the administration, particularly the Vice President and leadership at the Department of Health and Human Services, is invested in gutting HIV research and compromising the health and well-being of those living with or at high-risk of HIV.
Efforts to gut Medicaid and repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will have particularly devastating consequences for people living with HIV who rely on those programs to obtain affordable, life-sustaining medication.
This latest move comes on the heels of reports the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have been advised by HHS officials to avoid certain words in budget documents that could attract cuts to funding. Those words include: “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based,” and “science-based.” Originally reported as a ban on words by the Trump administration, the list actually represents self-censorship by CDC officials to protect against slashes in funding for scientific research and government aid programs.
The administration has already proposed over $150 million in cuts on HIV/AIDS funding at the CDC and more than $1 billion in cuts from global programs for the coming fiscal year.
These restrictions and funding cuts will have devastating consequences, especially for populations with disproportionately high rates of HIV infection: LGBTQ people of color, particularly gay and bisexual men (whether cisgender or trans), transgender women and femmes, and nonbinary people.
These actions and funding cuts are an attack on science. Prevention will be compromised. Stigma will be heightened.
The medical and scientific consensus has made clear that HIV is a manageable condition that cannot be transmitted through sexual activity by an individual with an undetectable viral load. Treatment and prevention are also attainable, and education is critical for those continuing important advancements in treating and understanding HIV.
After decades of research, the CDC officially announced this year that compliance with medication resulting in suppression of the virus prevents people from transmitting the illness to a sexual partner through unprotected sexual activity.
But the Trump administration is bringing us backwards. By removing experts from advisory roles, cutting funding, and promoting abstinence-only sex education, they are all but ensuring that vulnerable communities will face upticks in rates of HIV transmission and worsening health outcomes.
Put plainly: People will suffer from lack of treatment and die from completely preventable conditions.
Vice President Pence knows this first-hand. He witnessed escalating rates of HIV transmission in his home state of Indiana while serving as governor, a crisis due in large part to his own policies.
Indiana criminalized needle exchanges in 2015, resulting in one of the largest HIV outbreaks in the United States in decades. Morally opposed to needle exchanges, Pence refused to act with policy changes even after “nearly 200 people in rural Scott County” were diagnosed with HIV. Instead he told health and law enforcement officials that he would “go home and pray on it.” The crisis worsened and Pence ultimately succumbed to pressure to pass legislation permitting needle exchanges and the outbreak was stopped.
But with increased power and a Congress and administration to support him, Pence is back to cultivating conditions for widespread attacks on access to HIV treatment and prevention.
With the legislative and executive branches eager to cut health care access, comprehensive sex education, and HIV treatment options, we must act now
before we are confronted with a national crisis that mirrors the one Pence ignored in Indiana.