As a sign of protest, six top members of Donald Trump's Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA) have resigned on Tuesday, June 13, saying "Trump doesn't care about HIV. We're outta here."
In a letter published by Newsweek, the six members — including Scott Schoettes, Gina Brown, Michelle Ogle, Grissel Granados, Lucy Bradley-Springer, and Ulysses Burley III — addressed concerns that the president doesn't seem to have a strategy in combatting HIV/AIDS in the United States, among many other misgivings.
"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," the members wrote.
Fight Against HIV/AIDS
Schoettes, who is Counsel and HIV Project Director at the LGBTQ group Lambda Legal, led the resignation and lambasted Trump for his lack of policies on HIV/AIDS.
In the United States, only 40 percent of people with HIV have access to life-saving medications that have existed for more than two decades.
However, the Trump administration is not aware of these realities. In fact, the current administration has no plan to address the on-going HIV epidemic, does not consult experts to formulate policy, and pushes legislation that will be harmful for people living with HIV or reverse significant gains made in the campaign against this disease, Schoettes said.
As such, Schoettes and five other council members, all of whom have dedicated their lives in the treatment of HIV/AIDS patients, believe that they can do so effectively outside the confines of the president's advisory council.
"We cannot ignore the many signs that the Trump Administration does not take the on-going epidemic or the needs of people living with HIV seriously," the members said.
The president's lack of concern over HIV/AIDS was apparent during the campaign period, said Schoettes. While Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders met up with HIV advocates, Trump refused to do so.
He also took down the website of the Office of National AIDS policy on the same day he took office. There has been no replacement for this website 132 days into his term.
Furthermore, the president has yet to appoint anyone to lead this same office — a position that held a seat on the Domestic Policy Council under President Barack Obama. As of writing, no one in the White House is tasked to bring up salient issues regarding HIV/AIDS to the attention of the president.
The group's letter also singled out the Trump administration's efforts to scale back the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which has led to important gains in the lives of people with HIV. Replacing and repealing ACA with the American Health Care Act would devastate people with HIV, Schoettes said.
What Happens Now?
Now, 15 other members remain at PACHA. AIDS activists in the United States believe the resignation should have been a mass protest, given the Trump's administration's "willful negligence" on the issue.
"It's very obvious this administration is not going to use PACHA or do anything around HIV/AIDS," said activist Peter Staley. "Protest is the only response we have at this point."
Meanwhile, Schoettes and his five other colleagues are hoping that members of Congress who can influence healthcare will engage with them in a way that Trump and his cabinet apparently will not.
The White House has yet to respond to the council members' resignations.