The White House has issued an earnest statement attributed to President Trump about HIV/AIDS in America. It is technically accurate, apolitical and strikes just the right notes in terms of being somber and optimistic at the same time.
But coming on the heels of the resignation of six members of his Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA) last week, the words took on more significance. An HIV/AIDS council member who resigned wrote that Trump “simply does not care.”
Some commentators, on Twitter and elsewhere, took the new statement as an attempt at extending a sort of olive branch to those affected by the virus that has devastated far too many communities since it was first identified 35 years ago.
“Today, on National HIV Testing Day, we encourage people to take the first step — discovery — in fighting the Human Immunodeficiency Virus,” the president's statement said. He continued, “Greater awareness through testing is crucial in defeating HIV and AIDS. Thankfully, because of progress in testing and treatment, we have never been closer to conquering the epidemic.”
In the nearly eight months since he was elected president, Trump has managed to alienate a diverse range of stakeholders in the health-care world — from scientists researching autism to parents of children with preexisting conditions. But the backlash from the HIV/AIDS community has been especially fierce.
In a very public display of frustration, Scott Schoettes, a former member of PACHA, accused the Trump administration of having “no strategy to address the ongoing HIV/AIDS epidemic.” Writing in a commentary in Newsweek, he also said Trump and his government have sought zero input from experts on their HIV policy and have pushed legislation that “will harm people living with HIV and halt or reverse important gains made in the fight against this disease.”
White House press secretary Sean Spicer last week defended Trump against the accusations, but instead of being combative as he has been on other issues, he seemed to be trying to make nice with critics.
“Well, I mean, respectfully, the president cares tremendously about that and the impact it has,” Spicer said at a briefing. “Obviously, the individuals that he’s appointed here in the White House have been in communication with various stakeholders in that community to help develop policies and formulas going forward, but we’re going to continue to do what we can from a government standpoint.”
On Tuesday, Schoettes said in an email to The Washington Post that he's glad the president spoke about HIV.
“[T]his is the first such statement out of this White House, despite numerous opportunities to address the HIV/AIDS epidemic over the past 6 months — but what we really need is action on the health care bill,” he said.
Saying he has “little faith” that the Trump administration is “going to make a genuine attempt to address the needs of people living with HIV,” he said that he is appealing directly to senators working on the bill to sit down with HIV advocates to understand the consequences.
Schoettes called on Republicans to restore coverage mandates, Medicaid expansion and continue funding the important sexual health and prevention services provided by Planned Parenthood.
The full statement from the White House is below:
Statement from President Donald J. Trump on National HIV Testing Day
Today, on National HIV Testing Day, we encourage people to take the first step — discovery — in fighting the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), the virus that causes Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS). HIV has been one of the world’s most significant health challenges since it was first identified 35 years ago. Greater awareness through testing is crucial in defeating HIV and AIDS. Thankfully, because of progress in testing and treatment, we have never been closer to conquering the epidemic.
Today, there are 1.1 million people living with HIV in America, 15 percent of whom do not yet know their HIV status. Among young Americans infected by the virus, only 50 percent know they have contracted it. HIV carriers who do not know they have the virus put themselves and others at risk, missing out on lifesaving treatment and possibly, inadvertently infecting others. People who are not currently receiving treatment transmit more than 90 percent of infections, as they do not benefit from treatments that dramatically reduce the amount of virus in their bodies. That is why the key to interrupting the chain of transmission is a simple, routine HIV test.
Thanks to concerted efforts to diagnose and treat more and more people, Americans living with HIV today are living longer, healthier lives than ever before. My Administration is determined to build upon these improvements and continue supporting domestic and global health programs that prioritize testing and treatment for HIV/AIDS.
On National HIV Testing Day, I encourage Americans to learn their HIV status. Together, we can protect ourselves and promote the health and safety of all.