Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS is back in business more than a year after members were fired

The Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA) is back in business more than a year after its former members either quit or were fired by the Trump administration.

The Department of Health and Human Services announced this morning that new members were appointed to the advisory council, which will hold a two-day meeting today and tomorrow in Washington, D.C.

The announcement comes more than a year after the White House fired the 10 members of the council who had remained on board in January 2018. Six months prior, several members of the council quit over what they said was President Donald Trump’s lack of compassion for people who have HIV/AIDS.

The reactivation of the council comes after Trump announced in his State of the Union address in February a new public health initiative aimed at bringing an end to the HIV epidemic in the U.S. within 10 years. Trump also released a proposed federal budget on Monday that, on the one hand, called for $291 million for the Ending the HIV Epidemic plan in 2020 but also made significant cuts to HHS.

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In the announcement about the naming of new council members, HHS said the role of PACHA is to provide advice, information, and recommendations to the secretary of HHS on programs, policies, and research to promote effective treatment and prevention methods and quality services to people living with HIV and AIDS.

“PACHA will play a critical role in our collective response to this public health issue, particularly in the wake of the recently proposed Ending the HIV Epidemic: A Plan for America,” said Adm. Brett P. Giroir, M.D., HHS’ assistant secretary for health.

“More than 1 million Americans are living with HIV and nearly 40,000 are newly diagnosed with the virus each year. Working together, we have the opportunity to tackle some big issues, and I know our new members are up to the task,” Giroir said.

The council began meeting this morning, starting with a closed session for the administration to brief its new members. A public session will start at 1 p.m. and continue Friday starting at 9 a.m. at the Hubert H. Humphrey Building in Washington, D.C. The council will hear about the initiative to end HIV/AIDS from senior leadership and will discuss possible recommendations to support its goals, which are to reduce new HIV infections by 75% in the next five years and 90% in the next 10 years. The public portion of the meeting will be broadcast via webcast.

RELATED: 6 members of Trump's HIV/AIDS advisory council quit, saying the president doesn't care about patients

Trump has faced criticism in the past for his lack of support for those with HIV/AIDS. Some former council members resigned in protest in 2017, in part after an official White House website for the Office of National AIDS Policy was taken down on Inauguration Day, and frustration continued as Trump has not appointed anyone to head the White House Office of National AIDS Policy.

Critics say it will take a lot more money in the next federal budget for Trump to reach the goals in his HIV plan. Experts told the New York Times the funds will not be remotely sufficient to meet the goal of nearly eliminating the AIDS epidemic in the United States in the next decade.

At the same time, while the White House proposes more money to battle HIV/AIDS, it is also calling for a 12% cut in funding for HHS in the federal budget.

Nearly half of the $291 million proposed for the fight against HIV/AIDS ($140 million) is earmarked for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to work alongside state and local health departments to tackle this goal. In addition, the plan would allocate $120 million to the Health Resources and Services Administration to expand treatment access at federal health centers. 

In its announcement, HHS said the new council members, whose bios are now posted on the council website, represent a diverse set of stakeholders with expertise across the field of HIV. The council will be co-chaired by Carl Schmid, deputy executive director of The AIDS Institute, and John Wiesman, DrPH, secretary of health at the Washington State Department of Health.