Donald Trump's running mate Mike Pence spent a lot of time praying while the HIV outbreak spread in rural Indiana and his reluctance to change the laws to allow needle exchange caused the outbreak to spread rapidly, according to recent reports.
In 2015, HIV was spreading at a rapid rate in the rural part of the state that borders Kentucky among opioid users. Over 180 people in rural Scott county were infected with the virus after injecting Opana, a powerful prescription opioid, using contaminated needles. At the time, it was illegal to possess a syringe without a prescription. And, according to a recent study by the New England Journal of Medicine, the public health crisis could have been less severe if the state government had acted faster to improve the state’s needle exchange laws.
According to The New York Times, local, state and federal officials urged Pence, the governor, to change the state’s laws to allow needle exchanges to quell the outbreak. But officials said Pence, a conservative, refused to budge on the issue for months. Three days before issuing an executive order for a partial lift on the needle ban, the Times reports, Pence said he was going to pray on it.
Pence's health commissioner, Dr. Jerome Adams, said Pence also said he was "going to pray on it," according to the Times.
This is not Pence’s only controversial stance on HIV/AIDS policy. In the year 2000, Pence, then running for Congress, wrote on his website that he wanted to reauthorize the Ryan White Care Act, according to BuzzFeed News. The Ryan White Care Act is a federally-funded program that gives money to community groups to help HIV/AIDS patients.
But there was a catch to Pence's support: He wanted to reauthorize it only after an audit showed that the money was not being given to “organizations that celebrate and encourage the types of behaviors that facilitate the spreading of the HIV virus,” according to BuzzFeed News. Additionally, “resources should be directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior.”
According to The Daily Beast, Pence has advocated for years for conversion therapy, which seeks to convert LGBTQ people and repress their sexuality. Prominent medical organizations, including the American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association, have disavowed conversion therapy and suicide rates are known to increase among its followers.