In the 2008 blockbuster film, The Dark Knight, there is an infamous line by the Joker (played by the late Heath Ledger): "Introduce a little anarchy; upset the established order, and everything becomes chaos." That line by the Clown Prince of Crime pretty much sums up the last twelve months for those of us working to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic. In fact, chaotic would be an understatement.
|Photo Source: The Dark Knight|
The Administration's proposed budget last year was submitted to Congress late (and it will be so again this year), and it was laced with requested funding cuts to vital safety net programs. The Presidential Advisory Committee on HIV/AIDS ("PACHA") is in complete disarray between protest resignations coupled with termination of the remaining members. The Office of National AIDS Policy ("ONAP") — viewed as an important component of the White House Domestic Policy Council since 1993 — is seemingly gone. There has been no ONAP Director to coordinate the nation's response to HIV/AIDS at home, and abroad. Proposed regulations allowing healthcare professionals to deny care if it violates their "conscious" and seek to divert limited resources to organizations that refuse comprehensive strategies under the banner of religious objection. And that doesn't even scratch the surface with the countless attacks levied against the patient protections offered to people living with HIV/AIDS under the Affordable Care Act ("ACA").
On February 1st, we fired a shot across the bow at the Administration. We called on the newly minted Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services ("HHS") to fill the vacant director position at ONAP. Now to be fair, HHS Secretary Alex Azar has no statutory authority to fill this position but he has the ear of the President who does — and that has to be worth something. Our press release is available online.
|Photo Source: (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)|
It is, after all, a core responsibility of the HHS Secretary to utilize the position of influence with the President in seeking to address the public health needs of the nation. We have added our voice to the calls from numerous other advocates, legislators, and organizations that realize the vital need for this position to be filled immediately.
Since 1993 when ONAP was created the longest time period the director position remained vacant was approximately two months. It has now been twelve months since someone has led our government's response to an epidemic that has taken 35 million souls globally. It is bad public policy. It demonstrates poor leadership. And it is simply wrong!