Politics Is Personal, No. 2

The Trump Administration has ordered the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to thwart progress on HIV-related experiments due to the use of human tissue. This move is an affront both to modern medicine and to the millions of people who have suffered from HIV and AIDs at the hands of Republican administrations.

Scientists at the Gladstone Center for HIV Cure Research in San Francisco have been working on lessening HIV’s ability to stay in reservoirs of the body. If their research were to continue, society could eventually see a drug that would make PrEP — the current treatment of prevention for people at risk of contracting HIV — a short-term drug instead of a lifelong medication. This sort of change would be a massive step forward in both the convenience and cost of HIV treatment, bringing us one step closer to a true cure for the disease. In their experimentation, the scientists have been combining the genes of lab mice with human fetal tissue to have a more accurate representation of the human immune system.

Now, in a sweeping move affecting medical research across the country, Trump’s administration has banned NIH facilities from obtaining any more fetal tissue for their experimentation. The move was led not by medical researchers but by anti-abortion activists who claim that the use of consensually-given aborted human fetal tissue is immoral. This news comes only a few years after the uproar over a heavily edited video claiming that Planned Parenthood illegally sold aborted fetal tissue parts. Although this new “pro-life” regulation does nothing to limit abortions themselves, it does prohibit life-saving medical research from advancing the cure for HIV. It could be seen as ironic if it weren’t so terrifyingly cruel to those suffering from the disease.

Although the NIH was ordered to cease the acquisition of tissue in September of 2018, the news about the HIV experimentation is just now reaching national headlines. It’s the latest in a long string of similar actions by the current White House. While the President will often tweet long streams-of-consciousness about the Mueller investigation, many policies are changing in a quiet and sinister way. Other recent examples include the resumption of family separation at the border, loosening of radiation regulations, and the removal of LGBT+ people from the U.S. census. LGBT+ people in particular stand to lose decades of progress if research on HIV/AIDS treatment continues to wither.

PIP2 Trump Admin Fights Against HIV Research
The famous image of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus. The members in white represent the only surviving members of the original choir. The rest succumbed to AIDS-related complications.

The Trump Administration is not the first US Presidency that has halted progress on a cure for AIDS. Most notably, Ronald Reagan and the recently-deceased George H. W. Bush both stalled progress on AIDS research at the height of the AIDS crisis in the late twentieth century. At the time, the disease was highly stigmatized and viewed as a condition that only affected gay men, often called the “gay plague”, while HIV/AIDS itself was for years referred to in the medical field as GRID, or Gay-Related Immune Deficiency. Homophobic policies and ignorance stunted research on the disease for decades, leading to hundreds of thousands of deaths in the United States alone. The LGBT+ community lost nearly an entire generation of gay activists, leaders, performers, and family members. Only now are activists such as Javier Muñoz of Hamilton beginning to undo the harmful prejudices against people with HIV/AIDS.

History seems doomed to repeat itself if work on the cure for HIV doesn’t resume soon. A postdoctoral student involved in the Gladstone center research, Thomas Packed called the cessation “a travesty for the outlook for HIV research… Blocking this significantly hurts our chances of finding an HIV cure.”

There is no word yet on how or when work on the cure for HIV will be able to resume.

Politics Is Personal is a weekly column written by staff writer Rachel Abbott. New entries appear Monday nights at 7. 

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Rachel Abbott
Rachel Abbott is a columnist for About Magazine. By day she works at Half Price Books, and by night, she writes. She is interested in the LGBTQ+ women’s experiences, intersectional feminism, and WLW media. Her fiction writing has appeared in Prairie Margins, The Stockholm Review, Z Publishing’s Texas Emerging Writers Anthology, and more. She studied creative writing at The University of Texas at Austin. Now she lives in the heart of Houston with her partner and their two rescued dogs.