WASHINGTON, D.C.—In June of 2017, six members of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS suddenly quit, saying that their jobs no longer served a purpose because, they said, Trump simply didn’t care about the ongoing HIV and AIDS epidemic. Now Trump appears to have proved their fears by finishing off the PACHA board by firing all 16 of the remaining members, according to a Newsweek report.
Trump gave no reason for terminating the PACHA members, and carried out the firings by letter, delivered by Federal Express on Wednesday. One former PACHA member, who was among the six to resign in June, claimed that Trump fired the remaining members because they had dared to oppose Trump’s policies, or lack thereof, on HIV and AIDS.
“Dangerous that #Trump and Co. (Pence esp.) are eliminating few remaining people willing to push back against harmful policies, like abstinence-only sex ed,” the Chicago-based activist wrote on his Twitter account.
Another HIV/AIDS activist who remained on the panel after June, but was fired on Wednesday, speculated that Trump may have simply wanted to replace holdovers from the administration of President Barack Obama with his own cronies.
“It is common for appointees to be terminated and for folks to kind of want their own people in,” said Gabriel Maldonado.
But the Riverside, California-based activist also noted that the timing of the firings raised the question of why Trump waited almost a full year before firing the PACHA members, if his motive was simply to replace them with his own appointees—especially when some of the board members saw their terms end earlier this year only to be reappointed.
Trump has not yet named a new director of the Office of National AIDS Policy, and his administration has proposed cuts totaling about $800 million to HIV and AIDS prevention and treatment programs, reducing funds for the United States effort to combat HIV and AIDS at home and worldwide by 17 percent.
In the meantime, while HIV and AIDS cases have seen a decline in recent years, according to the Centers for Disease Control, the decline may be due largely to “targeted HIV prevention efforts”—the exact efforts that Trump has proposed to slash.
While diagnoses of HIV infections dropped about five percent from 2011 to 2015, there were still nearly 40,000 new HIV cases in 2016, with black gay men hit especially hard. Black male-to-male sexual contact accounted for 10,223 new HIV infection diagnoses in 2016, more than any other group.
In 2015, the CDC predicted that about 50 percent of African-American gay and bisexual men would contract the HIV virus—a higher rate than in any country in the world, according to a New York Times report.
Southern states—most of which voted heavily for Trump in the 2016 election—suffer the worst rates of HIV infections, accounting for 54 percent of all new cases despite being home to only 37 percent of the U.S. population.
HIV and AIDS also remain a significant cause of death in the United States, with 6,721 dying of AIDS-related illnesses in 2014. For Americans aged 25-34, HIV/AIDS remains the eighth leading cause of death, according to CDC statistics.