Six Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS Members Resign: Public Health Watch Report

Six members of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA) recently resigned in protest of the current administration’s healthcare policy.

Former House Speaker Tip O’Neill popularized the phrase “all politics is local.”

However, O’Neill, who died in 1987, could have never foreseen the Internet age. All politics may still be local, but now everything seems political as well—and political comings and goings are amplified via the wonders of the World Wide Web into national, and in some cases even global, stories.

Take for example the decision by 6 members of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA) to resign in protest of President Trump and his administration’s healthcare policy. These members did not just send a letter to the president, though: They also penned a Newsweek commentary published on June 16, 2017 entitled, “Trump Doesn’t Care About HIV. We’re Outta Here.”

Authored by Scott A. Schoettes, Counsel and HIV Project Director at Lambda Legal, the commentary read in part, “The Trump Administration has no strategy to address the ongoing HIV/AIDS epidemic, seeks zero input from experts to formulate HIV policy, and—most concerning—pushes legislation that will harm people living with HIV and halt or reverse important gains made in the fight against this disease.”

In addition to Schoettes, fellow members Lucy Bradley-Springer, Gina Brown, Ulysses W. Burley III, Michelle Ogle, and Grissel Granados also stepped down from PACHA, officially submitting letters of resignation on June 13, 2017.

Current PACHA Vice Chair Darrell P. Wheeler, PHD, MPH, Interim Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs, State University of New York at Albany did not reply to a request for comment prior to Contagion®’s deadline. Interestingly, the names of the resigning members of PACHA were still listed on the council’s web site a full week after their departure.

In the commentary, Schoettes and his colleagues accuse President Trump of demonstrating a “lack of understanding and concern regarding this important public health issue.” As evidence of this they state that, as a candidate, he refused to meet with HIV advocates during his campaign. Furthermore, they add that, as President, he has yet to appoint a leader to the White House Office of National AIDS Policy.

“This means no one is tasked with regularly bringing salient issues regarding this ongoing public health crisis to the attention of the President and his closest advisers,” Schoettes writes.

This very public announcement is only the latest in a series of “resignations-in-protest” for the Trump administration, which saw the abrupt departure of several State Department officials within days of taking office. In addition, two key scientific advisers to the Environmental Protection Agency stepped down in May in response to the President’s stance on climate change.

But while it’s safe to say that the vast majority of Contagion® readers are aware of PACHA and its work, it’s likely that all-too-few Americans had heard of the council prior to the Newsweek commentary and its fallout. Many Americans might also be surprised to learn that, despite the significant advancements made in HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention in recent years, many of those affected with the disease lack access to proper care—even here in the United States.

According to the UNAIDS “Prevention Gap” report, which was published in 2016, only some 30,000 of the 1.2 million Americans eligible for HIV PrEP (preexposure prophylaxis) therapy were prescribed the approach in 2015; in addition, some 13% of those who are HIV-positive are unaware of their status, and only 56.5% of those with the disease receive regular care. Some media analyses are reporting that these numbers are expected to worsen should the American Health Care Act and related changes to Medicare and Medicaid take effect.

“Because we do not believe the Trump Administration is listening to—or cares—about the communities we serve as members of PACHA, we have decided it is time to step down,” Schoettes writes. “We will be more effective from the outside, advocating for change and protesting policies that will hurt the health of the communities we serve...”

For now, those living with HIV/AIDS, and those who treat them, will have to hope Schoettes and his colleagues are right about that.

Brian P. Dunleavy is a medical writer and editor based in New York. His work has appeared in numerous healthcare-related publications. He is the former editor of Infectious Disease Special Edition.