Scott Schoettes and five other members of the president’s advisory council on HIV/AIDS recently resigned. After six months of trying to work with the president, it became obvious that Donald Trump doesn’t care about HIV/AIDS research, treatment, education or prevention. To date there is no national policy to address the ongoing HIV/AIDS epidemic — something every president since 1995 had done by this point in his term.

Trump does not ask for advice from any of the 21 (now 15) members of the council, proposes a budget that cuts spending on HIV/AIDS research and treatment, approved legislation that will make it prohibitively expensive for most people to get treated, and supports the Republican so-called health care plan that will make major cuts to Medicaid, a program that more than 40 percent of people with HIV or AIDS depend on.

Some think Trump’s “I don’t care” attitude stems from Vice President Mike Pence’s evangelical Christian influence. When Pence first ran for the Senate in 2000, he posted on his campaign website, “Congress should support the reauthorization of the Ryan White Care Act only after completion of an audit to ensure that federal dollars were no longer being given to organizations that celebrate and encourage the types of behaviors that facilitate the spreading of HIV. Resources should be directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior.”

Given Pence’s long history of anti-LGBT activism, it seems he was advocating reducing funds for HIV/AIDS research and defunding community-based organizations that work to educate people about HIV and AIDS in order to fund the impossible, changing one’s sexual orientation through conversion therapy. Will he get his wish?

In a letter to Newsweek announcing his resignation, Schoettes’ wrote, “While many members of the public are unaware of the significant impact that HIV/AIDS continues to have in many communities — or that only 40 percent of people living with HIV in the United States are able to access the life-saving medications that have been available for more than 20 years — it is not acceptable for the U.S. President to be unaware of these realities, to set up a government that deprioritizes fighting the epidemic and its causes, or to implement policies and support legislation that will reverse the gains made in recent years.”

Time magazine reports that the administration’s HIV and AIDS policies, or the lack thereof, go directly against the National HIV/AIDS Strategy developed by the Obama administration. That policy helped contain the HIV/AIDS epidemic by increasing funding for research, drug development, testing and increasing access to life-saving drugs and treatment. These newly developed drugs are effective in treating HIV, in lowering the HIV virus levels so others don’t get infected and in helping one from contracting HIV or AIDS in the first place.


By decreasing funding for research, treatment and education there is bound to be a dramatic increase in incidence in the near future. This will mean that because HIV/AIDS makes infected people more susceptible to other illnesses, illnesses that can and will be transferred to others through casual contact, everyone’s health care will be at a heightened risk.

Time also reports that Dr. Ada Adimora, a professor of medicine at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a member of the president’s council who decided to stay, is concerned that the proposed cuts in Medicaid would negatively affect the 40 percent of people who are HIV positive and depend on Medicaid for health care services.

She states that “cuts in Medicaid funding will also directly affect people living with HIV … Anything that threatens health care access is a threat to people with HIV and a threat to public health in general … 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.”

I urge you to contact your member of Congress and encourage them to do what they can to have an effective national policy on HIV and AIDS that increases funding for research, treatment, education and prevention. The nation’s health care depends on it.

Tom Waddell is the president of the Maine chapter of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. He can be reached at: [email protected]

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