A red ribbon in recognition of World AIDS Day hangs at White House on Dec. 1. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)
The remaining members of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS were fired en masse this week. Months after a half-dozen members resigned in protest of the Trump administration's position on health policies, the White House dismissed the rest through a form letter. The notice “thanked me for my past service and said that my appointment was terminated, effective immediately,” said Patrick Sullivan, an epidemiologist at Emory University who works on HIV testing programs. He was appointed to a four-year term in May 2016.
The council, known by the acronym PACHA, has advised the White House on HIV/AIDS policies since its founding in 1995. Members, who are not paid, offer recommendations on the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, a five-year plan responding to the epidemic. The group is designed to include “doctors, members of industry, members of the community and, very importantly, people living with HIV,” said Scott Schoettes, a lawyer with the LGBT rights organization Lambda Legal. “Without it, you lose the community voice in policymaking.”
Schoettes was among those who quit in June, and he went out with a fiery commentary in Newsweek. “The Trump Administration has no strategy to address the on-going 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,” he wrote in the column.
“We tried to stick it out,” Schoettes told The Washington Post on Friday. “The fact is you’re dealing with a public health issue. It’s not partisan at all.” But the “writing was on the wall,” he continued. The Office of National AIDS Policy, established in 1993 during the Clinton administration, has not had a director since Donald Trump took office. “The tipping point for me was the president's approach to the Affordable Care Act,” Schoettes said. “It is of great importance for people living with HIV like myself.”
The council's executive director, Kaye Hayes, confirmed in a statement that all remaining 10 council members had received letters Wednesday “informing them that the administration was terminating their appointments.”