President Trump has dismissed the entire Presidential advisory council on HIV/AIDS.
The Republican leader has been harshly criticised over his handling of HIV/AIDS issues, with activists warning that proposed cuts to healthcare, HIV prevention and international aid threaten to spark a new epidemic.
But the politician, who has faced warnings from former President George W Bush over the issue, this week decided to dismiss the entirety of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS.
According to Newsweek, all members of the council were informed of their dismissal by a letter sent via courier.
The move comes after the quiet closure of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy, which was shuttered as part of the Presidential transition and never re-opened as Trump failed to appoint a new director.
Chicago-based HIV activist Scott A Schoettes, a former member of the council, laid into the decision.
He tweeted: “Remaining #HIV/AIDS council members booted by @realDonaldTrump. No respect for their service. Dangerous that #Trump and Co. (Pence esp.) are eliminating few remaining people willing to push back against harmful policies, like abstinence-only sex ed.”
Mr Schoettes accused Trump of “executing a purge” by eliminating the council in combination with other policies. It was reported earlier this month that federal agencies had been banned from using the word ‘transgender’.
Several members of the advisory council had already resigned in protest at Trump-era rollbacks on HIV/AIDS earlier this year.
Six people resigned from the Council en masse in June, saying that Trump and his administration “do not care” about the cause.
In a joint resignation letter, the group wrote that they had dedicated their lives to fighting HIV and AIDS, but felt that the Trump administration was preventing them from doing this successfully.
They wrote: “As advocates for people living with HIV, we have dedicated our lives to combating this disease and no longer feel we can do so effectively within the confines of an advisory body to a president who simply does not care.”
“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.”
While Democratic candidates for President Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders both met with HIV advocates and proposed an action plan on the issue, Donald Trump did not.
The letter also raised objection to Trump’s healthcare policies.
The letter stated: “We know who the biggest losers will be if states are given the option of eliminating essential health benefits or allowing insurers to charge people with HIV substantially more than others.
“It will be people—many of them people of color—across the South and in rural and underserved areas across the country, the regions and communities now at the epicentre of the U.S. HIV/AIDS epidemic.
“It will be young gay and bisexual men; it will be women of colour; it will be transgender women; it will be low-income people. It will be people who become newly infected in an uncontrolled epidemic, new cases that could be prevented by appropriate care for those already living with the disease.”
The group concluded the letter by saying that the resignation was not an easy decision, but one that must be made.
“The decision to resign from government service is not one that any of us take lightly. However, 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 bulk of the cuts are proposed to the President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which was set up by former President George W Bush to tackle the AIDS crisis, and is one of the largest providers of funding for global projects battling the spread of HIV/AIDS.
Former President Bush, who is often praised for setting up PEPFAR despite his broadly regressive stances on LGBT issues, penned an op-ed for the Washington Post warning against any cuts.
He wrote: “My administration launched PEPFAR in 2003 to address the HIV/AIDS pandemic that threatened to wipe out an entire generation on the continent of Africa. Nearly 15 years later, the program has achieved remarkable results in the fight against
“Nearly 15 years later, the program has achieved remarkable results in the fight against disease. Today, because of the commitment of many foreign governments, investments by partners, the resilience of the African people and the generosity of the American people, nearly 12 million lives have been saved.
He added: “As the executive and legislative branches review the federal budget, they will have vigorous debates about how best to spend taxpayers’ money — and they should.
“Some will argue that we have enough problems at home and shouldn’t spend money overseas. I argue that we shouldn’t spend money on programs that don’t work, whether at home or abroad.
“But they should fully fund programs that have proven to be efficient, effective and results-oriented.
“Saving nearly 12 million lives is proof that PEPFAR works, and I urge our government to fully fund it. We are on the verge of an AIDS-free generation, but the people of Africa still need our help.
“The American people deserve credit for this tremendous success and should keep going until the job is done.”
President Obama also previously warned about the importance of maintaining funding for HIV/AIDS projects.
Trump has made offensive comments about HIV/AIDS in the past.
In a radio interview months after the deaths of influential AIDS activist Princess Diana, Trump joked about “nailing” her – but only after forcing her to take an HIV test.
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The interview with Howard Stern took place in November 1997, just 65 days after the Princess had died in a tragic car crash.
Stern asked Trump: “Why do people think it’s egotistical of you to say you could’ve gotten with Lady Di? “You could’ve gotten her, right? You could’ve nailed her.”
Without hesitation, Trump responded: “I think I could have.”
Stern then asked Trump if he would take Diana to the doctor.
Speaking as if he were with the late Princess, Trump said: “Come back over to my Lexington Avenue doctor.
“We wanna give you a little checkup.”
In another interview with Stern in 2000, Trump re-emphasised that he would sleep with Diana, saying he would do it “without even hesitation”.
He also said: “She was crazy, but you know these are minor details.”