As last year came to a close, President Donald Trump fired every member of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS. The council, which was established in 1995, advised presidential administrations on policies relating to HIV and AIDS prevention and treatment.
Though the American people have yet to see the effects of this action, the loss of the council is cause for concern. The spread of HIV/AIDS is declining overall, but there’s still a significant health risk, especially for marginalized groups in the United States, like gay and bisexual men of color. The lack of an advisory council could potentially increase their risk.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, while HIV infections are declining overall, they have increased by 14 percent for Latino gay and bisexual men, and have remained at a consistent rate of 10,000 per year for African-American gay bisexual men from 2010 to 2014.
In 2015, gay and bisexual men made up 67 percent of the new diagnoses of HIV and AIDS.
“There’s an uptick in the infection rate in certain populations,” said Sarah Bass, a social and behavioral sciences professor. Bass is also the director of the Risk Communication Laboratory, which works to craft messaging about different public health risks.
Bass said the opioid epidemic has put intravenous drug users at an increased risk as well.
“We’ve seen an increase in HIV rates, especially in parts of the country that haven’t had needle exchange or other types of programs geared toward [intravenous drug users],” Bass said.
Removing the council will also weaken America’s status as an internationally recognized actor in HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment, resulting in possible negative effects on diplomatic relations.
“Internationally, the U.S. has been a leader in the last decade around HIV…getting the epidemic under control in certain parts of the world,” Bass said. “That has brought a lot of support from developed countries. Disbanding our entire set of experts in an area is probably going to affect that.”
Additionally, the Trump administration’s removal of council members sends a disheartening message of disinterest about preventing HIV/AIDS.
“Firing was done and a strategic plan was not communicated to replace that council,” said Omar Martinez, a social work professor. “By firing and terminating the members of the presidential advisory council, [President Trump] says, ‘AIDS should be not a priority as of now.’”
The health and safety of citizens should always be a priority for those in charge. Trump’s refusal to treat it as such speaks to his incompetence as a leader.
According to the Washington Post, Kaye Hayes, the council’s executive director, said the purpose of the firings is to “bring in new voices.”
Even if the council members are eventually replaced, not allowing them to complete their terms is a disturbance. It is detrimental to the health and well-being of those affected by HIV and AIDS, as well as at-risk populations.
Scott Schoettes, who resigned from the council in June, wrote in a Newsweek column that he does not believe the Trump administration will take sufficient action to prevent and treat HIV/AIDS.
“The Trump administration has no strategy to address the ongoing HIV/AIDS epidemic…[and] pushes legislation that will harm people living with HIV,” Schoettes wrote.
The severity of Trump’s decision requires speedy reparative action.
Martinez recommends the Trump administration hire new council members, preferably members who would reflect communities most impacted by HIV and AIDS.
Hopefully, federal officials will reinstate the council, which provides necessary guidance on preventing and treating HIV and AIDS. Without the council, we can only expect one of our nation’s most substantial public health epidemics to worsen.