On Tuesday, June 1, 2021, the HHS Office of Infectious Disease and HIV/AIDS Policy (OIDP) and U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps (USPHS) Officers at Prevention through Active Community Engagement (PACE) hosted the “40 Years of Progress – It’s Time to End the HIV Epidemic” virtual webinar. The national webinar focused on leveraging best practices, innovations, and health equity to end the U.S. HIV epidemic and coincided with the 40th anniversary of when the first five cases of what later would become known as AIDS were officially reported. Opening remarks were delivered by Kaye Hayes, Acting Director of OIDP and Executive Director of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS; Harold Phillips, Senior HIV Advisor at OIDP (subsequently, on June 5th, Harold was named the Director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy) and Chief Operating Officer for the Ending the HIV Epidemic in the U.S. initiative; and most notably, Rachel Levine, M.D., Assistant Secretary for Health at HHS.
In her recorded video keynote address, “Regaining Momentum to End the HIV Epidemic in the U.S.”, Dr. Levine stated, “I want to be unequivocal about my words, the Biden-Harris administration is fully committed to ending the HIV epidemic in the U.S.” As Dr. Levine expounded on the government’s themes for the 40th anniversary, she encouraged attendees to: “Reflect on those who have died from AIDS-related illnesses since the start of the HIV epidemic. Recommit ourselves to the goal of ending the HIV epidemic in the U.S. Reenergize our response to ensure equitable access to prevention, care, and treatment services, and ensure health equity for all. And finally, Reengage our partners around the world for maximum and enduring impact.”
During the Reflect presentation, Steven Vargas (Region 6), an HIV advocate, long-term survivor, consultant, and trainer for two efforts: Community HIV/AIDS Technical Assistance and Training for Planning and the National Minority AIDS Council’s Building Leaders of Color focused on the progress and advancements made in ending the HIV epidemic in the U.S. since 1981. Rebecca Nessen, Vice-President of Strategic Initiatives and Precshard Williams, Prevention and Sexual Health Programs Coordinator, both from Region 4 and from Metro Inclusive Health Florida, led the Reenergize portion on their approach to tailoring strategies to reach LGBTQ+ youth communities and those living with or at risk of HIV.
Frances Lawless (Region 6), Director of the Office of Health Policy and AIDS Funding for the New Orleans Health Department, whose presentation aligned with the Recommit theme, discussed the Department’s best practices to reduce barriers to accessing HIV care and shared data on viral suppression rates.
The final four speakers’ presentations aligned with the Reengage portion. LCDR Janet Cifuentes, Clinical Pharmacist, and Dr. Stephanie Markman, both from Region 9 and the Phoenix Indian Medical Center, addressed the collaborative approach needed between pharmacists and case managers. Dr. Helen King, an HIV and PrEP clinical provider, and Katie E. Bistransin, Clinical Pharmacist Specialist, both from Region 6 and Parkland Health and Hospital System, presented on improving access to PrEP and barriers to HIV testing and care in the homeless community, respectively. Lastly, Dr. Elizabeth Sherman, Region 4, an HIV/AIDS Clinical Pharmacist at Memorial Healthcare System, discussed training clinicians to collaborate across fields to address the critical shortage in the HIV workforce.
Harold Phillips ended the webinar and reminded participants that June 5th is also recognized as HIV Long-Term Survivors Awareness Day and “serves as a reminder and celebration of those who are still with us.” Finally, Harold charged the audience to “engage all sectors of society and leverage best practices, innovations, and health equity to end the U.S. HIV epidemic” and reminded all: “this is a whole-of-society approach—and together, we can end the HIV epidemic!”