Metro Weekly

Trump criticized over HIV strategy on National HIV Testing Day

Criticism primarily revolves around president's support for bill compromising health care access for HIV patients

President Donald Trump at CPAC 2017, Photo: Gage Skidmore / Flickr

Following his release of a statement recognizing June 27 as National HIV Testing Day, President Trump has come under fire from critics who point to his lack of action on HIV, policies he supports that could compromise people’s access to lifesaving treatment, and his omission of the risk the virus poses to LGBTQ communities.

On Tuesday, Trump issued a statement encouraging people to get tested in order to know their status. Noting that 1.1 million people in America are living with HIV, and that 15 percent do not yet know their status, Trump said 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,” the president’s statement reads. “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.”

Trump’s brief remarks on HIV — his first since taking office — come after six members of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS resigned in protest of the Trump administration’s lack of comprehensive strategy to fight the spread of HIV and its refusal to confer with experts to craft policy that would reduce the barriers to accessing important prevention methods for HIV-negative individuals, or antiretrovirals for those who are HIV-positive.

“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 six wrote in a joint letter published in Newsweek magazine.

Scott Schoettes, one of the six former advisory council members, who serves as HIV Project Director and counsel at Lambda Legal, said in a statement that he was glad the resignations had prompted the president to at least address the issue of HIV, but remains concerned about the effects that both the Republican House-approved American Health Care Act or the Senate version, known as the Better Care Reconciliation Act, would have on communities affected by HIV.

“The health care reform bill needs to be radically overhauled to address the needs of people living with or at higher risk for HIV. If we are going to get a handle on the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the Republicans must restore Essential Health Benefits, maintain Medicaid expansion, and continue funding the important sexual health and prevention services provided by Planned Parenthood,” Schoettes said. 

“But I have such little faith that this Administration is going to make a genuine attempt to address the needs of people living with HIV, I am ready to bypass the President and appeal directly to the Senators working on this bill. Now that the Senate bill has been issued — and the vote delayed — moderate Senators need to sit down with HIV advocates to understand the consequences of this bill for people living with HIV, for communities affected by HIV, and for the country’s ability to combat the HIV/AIDS epidemic that rages on within various communities and geographic areas.”

GLAAD, which has criticized the president on a multitude of issues, took to Twitter to register their disapproval of him.

“@realdonaldtrump fails to include LGBTQ people in his statement for #HIVTestingDay. We’re not really surprised at this point,” GLAAD tweeted.

GLAAD also pointed to David France‘s book How to Survive a Plague as an example of a strategy that Trump could follow if he was concerned about reducing the prevalence of HIV.

In response, the Twitter handle for How to Survive a Plague offered to coordinate a private screening for Trump and his advisors.

The Human Rights Campaign, which has already gone on record opposing the Republican health care reform bill, also pointed out the devastating effect it could have on communities affected by HIV, including the LGBTQ community.

“Because of the ACA, thousands of low-income people living with HIV have been able to obtain health insurance through the Medicaid expansion. This critical coverage ensures that people living with HIV have access to the lifesaving treatments,” HRC wrote in a blog post explaining its opposition to the Senate bill, which is currently awaiting a vote. “The so-called  ‘Better Care Reconciliation Act’ proposes drastic changes to Medicaid and it will strip many of these people, and the most vulnerable among us, of essential health care coverage.”

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com