On World AIDS Days past, before we were kept apart by the global COVID-19 pandemic, the small team at the Office of HIV/AIDS Housing (OHH) would commemorate the day by leading a walk with our colleagues at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, holding a memorial candle lighting, or by taking a metro ride to visit a local landmark at DuPont Circle in Washington, DC that is often called the “AIDS Caregivers’ Memorial.” Taking the long escalator ride from underground metro level to street level, we would be surrounded by powerful words from poet Walt Whitman, engraved on the station walls as tribute to the caregivers of the early days of the AIDS epidemic. Near the top of the escalator, a second poem is engraved around a circular park bench, “We Embrace” by E. Ethelbert Miller:
We fought against the invisible
We looked to one another for comfort
We held the hands of friends and lovers
We did not turn our backs
Each time I have walked that circle, reading the words again, my heart has become heavy with the memories of people dear to me who lost their battle against the invisible. I believe World AIDS Day allows us to grieve together, but it’s also a chance to celebrate together the medical advancements made during the past 30 years and to unify with people who are living with HIV today.
Since the first World AIDS Day in 1988, significant strides have been made in reducing HIV infections and improving health outcomes in the United States. In 2013, an Executive Order was issued directing federal agencies to prioritize supporting the HIV care continuum; this initiative included HUD and aimed to accelerate efforts to improve the percentage of people living with HIV who move from testing to treatment and, ultimately, to viral suppression. This means that as of 2013, improving housing and economic stability have been officially recognized as critical interventions in ending the HIV epidemic in our country. Research and HOPWA provider studies show that for low-income people living with HIV, housing stability is closely linked to not only improved quality of life, but also increased likelihood of achieving and maintaining viral suppression.
On this World AIDS Day, I am pleased to acknowledge that HUD will have an expanded presence in the National HIV AIDS Strategy 2022-2025. This Strategy will guide the work of the federal government and other public and private stakeholders in delivering equitable HIV prevention, care, treatment, and supportive services nationwide. The Strategy will promote collaboration across agencies to meet the needs of people living with HIV and to proactively work to prevent new HIV infections. The Strategy will also highlight the importance of addressing social determinants of health to reduce health disparities among racial, ethnic, and sexual and gender minority groups who are most vulnerable to contracting HIV. By working to expand access to housing for individuals with HIV, and by increasing awareness of the role of stable housing in HIV prevention efforts, we can promote access to the critical healthcare and supportive services needed to end the epidemic.
On December 1, 2021, as the world recognizes the 33rd World AIDS Day, I hope you will join OHH in recognizing the progress our country has made to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic and renewing your efforts to end the epidemic in your community.