Rhetoric versus Reality: HHS Secretary Azar Pays Lip Service to Ending HIV While Undermining Efforts to Find A Cure

02.06.19 – Last night, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar lauded Trump’s State of the Union speech and his “commitment” to confronting HIV/AIDs. Yet Azar and his lieutenants have been working to actively undermine efforts to stop HIV/AIDS.  Equity Forward issued the following statement, which also details the various ways Azar has been putting politics before people, especially when it comes to tackling HIV/AIDS.

"Secretary Azar is the perfect embodiment of ‘do as I say, not as I do,’" said Mary Alice Carter, Executive Director of Equity Forward. “He says he supports tackling HIV/AIDS in the United States, but HHS is dismantling research for cures at the behest of the anti-abortion lobby. And the ongoing attacks on the Affordable Care Act and health care providers like Planned Parenthood will only leave people with less access to the care and information they need to stay healthy and reduce transmissions."

RHETORIC: Alex Azar Praised Trump’s “Commitment” To Ending HIV

Azar Lauded Trump’s SOTU Speech And His “Commitment” To Confronting The HIV Epidemic. “Americans heard tonight how serious President Trump is about improving the quality and affordability of healthcare. In addition to maintaining a strong commitment to confronting the opioid epidemic and proposing a new dedicated initiative to tackle childhood cancer, the President announced his Administration’s goal to end the HIV epidemic in America within 10 years, and asked Republicans and Democrats to also make this commitment.” [Press Release, HHS, 2/5/19]

REALITY: Azar Halted Research Studies Looking For HIV Cures

HHS Quietly Directed National Institutes Of Health Scientists To Discontinue Procuring Fetal Tissue, Effectively Suspending All Of Their Research To Discover A Cure For HIV…

At Least One Government-Run Study That Employs Fetal Tissue Research Was Quietly Shut Down Prior To Health Officials’ Final Decision On Such Research. “The Trump administration has shut down at least one government-run study that uses fetal tissue implanted into mice even before federal health officials reach a decision on whether to continue such research, which is opposed by antiabortion groups. A senior scientist at a National Institutes of Health laboratory in Montana told colleagues that the Health and Human Services Department ‘has directed me to discontinue procuring fetal tissue’ from a firm that is the only available source’...This effectively stops all of our research to discover a cure for HIV,’ the researcher wrote. [Washington Post, 12/9/18]

This Suspension Of Research By National Institutes Of Health Scientists Occurred In September 2018 Without Any Public Announcement. “U.S. President Donald Trump's administration has ordered scientists employed by the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) to stop acquiring new human fetal tissue for experiments…The suspension, imposed this past September without a public announcement, came as the government launched a review of all fetal tissue research funded by the federal government. The pause affects two laboratories run by the Bethesda, Maryland-based agency, NIH officials say. In one case, it disrupted a study probing how the virus that causes AIDS initially colonizes human tissues.” [Science Mag, 12/7/18]

… And A California Research Lab Testing Almost All FDA Approved HIV Therapies Since The 1990’s Was Reportedly Told That The Government Was Ending Their Seven-Year Contract Midstream…

Washington Post: “The Trump Administration Has Thrown Into Doubt A Multimillion-Dollar Research Contract To Test New Treatments For HIV That Relies On Fetal Tissue.” “The Trump administration has thrown into doubt a multimillion-dollar research contract to test new treatments for HIV that relies on fetal tissue — work targeted by antiabortion lawmakers and social conservatives aligned with the president. The turmoil over the National Institutes of Health contract with the University of California at San Francisco is part of a building battle between conservatives opposed to research using fetal tissue and scientists who say the material is vital to developing new therapies for diseases from AIDS to Parkinson’s.” [Washington Post, 12/4/18]

An NIH Official Told The University Of California At San Francisco That The Government Was Ending The Seven-Year Contract Midstream And That The Decision Was Coming From The ‘Highest Levels.’ “Last week, an NIH contracting official told the principal investigator at UCSF that the government was ending the seven-year contract midstream and that the decision was coming from the ‘highest levels,’ according to a virologist familiar with the events. Five days later, the university received a letter from the AIDS division of NIH’s National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases saying the government would continue the contract for 90 days rather than the expected year-long renewal, with no forecast of its prospects after that, according to an individual with knowledge of the letter.” [Washington Post, 12/4/18]

The Research Lab In Question Has “Been Instrumental In Testing Virtually All HIV Therapies Subsequently Approved By The U.S. Food And Drug Administration Since The 1990s.” “The UCSF research laboratory and an affiliated institute have been instrumental in testing virtually all HIV therapies subsequently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration since the 1990s, and NIH provides all the support for this work.” [Washington Post, 12/4/18]

HHS Secretary Azar Ordered This Review Of All Fetal Tissue Research Contracts

According To The Assistant Secretary For Health, Secretary Azar Ordered The Review Of Fetal Tissue Research Contracts. “Giroir said Pence did not prompt the review of fetal tissue research. HHS Secretary Alex Azar ordered it after the Food and Drug Administration contract with Advanced Bioscience came to his attention, he said.  ‘To my knowledge, nobody in the White House is involved,’ Giroir said, ‘and they certainly haven’t been involved with me.’”[Washington Post, 12/13/18]

###