Another day, another catastrophe in the Trump White House. On December 29, 2017, Trump decided it would be best to ring in the new year without the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS. He fired everyone and completely disbanded the council.
The council was started by former President Bill Clinton in 1995 at the behest of medical workers and activists who recognized the need to combat the epidemic, and for more than 20 years it's made great strides in helping promote research and policies that have decreased HIV/AIDS-related deaths and infections in the US.
Trump's firing of the HIV/AIDS council has far-reaching effects. The council had been fighting Trump's desire to take $150 million out of the HIV/AIDS budget at the Center for Disease Control, as well as lobbying against harmful educational policies that will undermine safe sex education. The entire move is a step backwards, as the community of those infected with HIV or AIDS has fought tremendous battles, not just with their health, but with society as a whole. HIV/AIDS has been riddled with conspiracies, rumors, stereotypes and myths that have been debunked by science for years (you can't get AIDS from sitting on the toilet, kids). While the perception of HIV/AIDS has changed for the better, there is still much work to do — and disbanding the experts who are working on the case is not helping that.
A better question may be "why does Trump do anything that he does?" but that's a question for another time. Trump's disbanding of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA) came as a surprise to many, as 10 council members still had remaining time on their respective appointments. Six members of the council had already resigned in June of 2017 in protest of legislation they said would be harmful to those living with HIV/AIDS, and Trump fired the rest via Fedex letter. Some believe that Trump fired them to clear out Obama-era appointments, but considering that Trump hadn't even appointed his own PACHA chief, who can really know the real reasoning behind his decision.
The Russians didn't start the "fake news" epidemic with the Trump/Clinton presidential race. During the Cold War, the Russians spread around a conspiracy on AIDS. Operation Infektion, as it was known by the Soviets in the 1980s, was a concocted a story that AIDS was actually a byproduct of US government experiments gone awry. Because Reagan hadn't really done anything about the burgeoning AIDS crisis, it started to seem believable to some that the government could have something to do with AIDS.
Operation Infektion started with an anonymous letter to a small newspaper in India, claiming that the disease that the US government supposedly created would soon creep to their country. And the conspiracy spun out from there. Sound familiar to Pizzagate and birthers? It should, because those conspiracies are rooted in the same tactics as Operation Infektion.
As if the LGBTQ community didn't have it hard enough already, 20% of LGBT people with HIV have reported being denied healthcare. Medical professionals have also blamed health problems on their LGBT status.
An HIV-positive man was denied a kidney transplant by his insurance company thanks to his diagnosis; an HIV-positive man's family was not allowed to visit him in the hospital and he was not given HIV medication, even after he requested it. The doctor reportedly said, "This is what he gets for going against God's will." Another HIV-positive individual who was scheduled for spinal surgery had that surgery canceled after the surgeon learned about the patient's HIV-positive status.
In China, due to widespread fear of AIDS (and the proliferation of myths about the virus), many have reported not being able to receive medical care if they are HIV-positive. This is particularly problematic in rural areas. China also imprisoned an AIDS activist in 2008; another was pushed out of China to go to the United States.
The good news is that between 2008 and 2014, HIV diagnoses decreased 18%. Those contracting the disease from injecting drugs decreased 56%, and heterosexual diagnoses decreased 36%. However, diagnoses in gay and bisexual men did not decrease. In fact, in some demographics of gay and bisexual men, diagnoses actually increased — diagnoses went up 35% for gay and bisexual men between 25 to 34.
African-Americans account for 44% of HIV diagnoses, and Latin-Americans account for 25% of diagnoses; however, these demographics only represent 12% and 18% of the US population, respectively.
But perhaps most troubling? The World Health Organization reports that 40% of those with HIV don't know it — that's 14 million people who are likely suffering and possibly spreading the virus.