While health advocacy organizations have urged the federal government to learn from the HIV/AIDS crisis to more effectively respond to the Covid-19 pandemic, both within America and abroad, many HIV/AIDS organizers argue that the government has now failed twice in its responsibility to the nation’s — and the world’s — most vulnerable people.
When AIDS hit prisons and jails in the 1980s, incarcerated people organized. They developed peer education programs to counter stigma and slow transmission, established buddy programs to provide mutual support, led hunger and medication strikes to challenge medical neglect, and worked with outside supporters to file class-action lawsuits and to win compassionate release. The Prisoner Education Project on AIDS and AIDS Counseling and Education in New York state prisons, and similar projects in federal lockup became the best known among hundreds of efforts behind bars. Rusti Miller-Hill, a formerly incarcerated woman living with HIV, said of her emergence as an HIV activist in jail: “I needed to live, and that was my way of fighting.”
President Donald Trump’s Administration has terminated all members of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA). GPB has learned that members of the council were notified yesterday in writing about the decision and were advised their dismissals were effective immediately. The firings came with no warning. As many as 12 people may have been let go. “It is a dangerous thing when the administration is eliminating people whose views are based in science and community experience,” HIV Project Director at Lambda Legal in an interview with GPB. News of the terminations comes after the Trump administration prohibited officials at the nation’s top public health agency from using a list of seven words or phrases — including “fetus” and “transgender” — in official documents being prepared for next year’s budget.