The White House’s group of HIV/Aids advisers has dropped by a third after six of the team quit last week, blaming an indifferent and actively harmful president.
Scott A Schoettes and five other advisers quit the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/Aids (PACHA) on Tuesday, and on Friday Schoettes wrote a scathing indictment on Donald Trump for Newsweek.
‘As advocates for people living with HIV, we have dedicated our lives to combating this disease and no longer feel we can do so effectively within the confines of an advisory body to a president who simply does not care,’ he wrote.
Not only is Trump not interested in the epidemic, they said, his actions are likely to ruin the lives of sufferers of the disease – including many of those in the South and rural areas.
According to Schoettes, Trump’s failures to tackle the country’s Aids epidemic are legion, and began before he even got into office, when he refused to meet with HIV advocates in the primaries.
And once in office, apathy turned into actively combating the work that PACHA – which was started in 1995 to advise the Secretary of Health and Human Services on fighting and curing Aids – has done, Schoettes said.
Office of National Aids Policy lost its White House website on the day Trump took office, and no-one was appointed to lead the department.
Obama, on the other hand, appointed someone to the office on day 36 of his administration, and within 18 months they had ‘crafted the first comprehensive US HIV/Aids strategy,’ he added.
‘By contrast, President Trump appears to have no plan at all.’
That’s bad news for those hoping to continue fighting HIV – a disease that is hitting poorer rural areas particularly hard, especially where there is a high use of intravenous drugs.
That was due to increased intravenous use of an opioid, oxymorphone, NPR reported – compounded a lack of places to acquire safe, clean needles, and proper treatment centers.
After listening to complaints, Pence signed off on a law that would allow for needle exchange programs in the two most heavily affected counties.
But Trump – who once identified as a Democrat – is proving a tougher nut to crack than even his famously conservative VP, Schoettes claims.
Before Obamacare, insurers were able to refuse coverage for those with HIV, which counted as a pre-existing condition.
They would have to allow the virus to develop into full-blown Aids (the resulting – potentially fatal – immune system disorder) in order to get coverage.
But once someone has Aids, the symptoms are harder and more expensive to control.
More than 40 per cent of people with HIV receive care through Medicaid, so a lack of access to care that can keep the disease under control is likely to lead to the epidemic spreading.
Low-income people will be put at risk of illness and death, as will ‘people of color’, LGBT people and other minorities, he warned.
‘While we are in agreement that the ACA needs to be strengthened to lower premiums, improve competition, and increase access to care, it makes no sense to dismiss gains made under the ACA just to score political points,’ he added.
A dozen or so people remain on the council, but Schoettes said that he and his five fellow leavers ‘will be more effective from the outside.’
‘We hope the members of Congress who have the power to affect healthcare reform will engage with us and other advocates in a way that the Trump Administration apparently will not,’ he concluded.