President Trump has fired the entire council that advises his administration about the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the Washington Post reported on Saturday.
Patrick Sullivan, an epidemiologist at Emory University in Atlanta who works on HIV testing programs, told the newspaper the members were informed by letter this week that their terminations were effective immediately.
The Washington Post said the council, which was set up in 1995, makes national HIV/AIDS strategy recommendations — a five-year plan which sets out how health officials should respond to the epidemic.
The council is made up of doctors, members of industry, members of the community and people living with the disease.
The Washington Blade, an LGBTI newspaper, cited sources with knowledge of the terminations as saying that the terms of several council members appointed during the Obama era still had time to run.
Anger over Trump's health cuts
The mass dismissal follows the resignation in June of six other representatives of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS, who said at the time they were frustrated with Trump's health care policies.
Several members slammed Trump's planned American Health Care Act (AHCA), saying it would leave many of the 1.1 million Americans with HIV/AIDS without access to proper treatment. AHCA failed to pass in Congress this year, despite several attempts.
Council members also complained that, since taking office, Trump had failed to appoint a director of the Office of National AIDS Policy, a position first created during the Clinton administration.
Lawyer Scott Shoettes, who resigned from the committee in June, called Trump's decision "dangerous," adding in a tweet that his administration was "eliminating the few remaining people willing to push back against harmful policies, like abstinence-only sex education."
Trump has sought to make $150 million in cuts to HIV/AIDS programs in the 2018 fiscal year budget, as well as deep cuts to global projects to fight AIDS and other diseases, Newsweek reported.
HIV/AIDS campaigners denounced the firings from the council as potentially setting back the fight against the disease following years of progress.
Although the number of new HIV infections in the U.S. fell% between 2010 and 2015, gay and bisexual men remain at the highest risk, along with other minority groups including blacks and Hispanics, according to figures from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
The health agency estimates that some 162,500 people (15% of all those living with the condition) are unaware that they are HIV positive.