Last Wednesday, as part of our ongoing effort to develop an agency-wide implementation plan for the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) convened a listening session with representatives of the HIV/AIDS community from across the country. The community representatives offered feedback on the Strategy, asked questions, and shared recommendations and concerns related to the development of our NHAS implementation plan.
Dr. Howard Koh, Assistant Secretary for Health, chaired the meeting. Joining Dr. Koh and me in listening to the feedback were Mr. Christopher Bates, Executive Director of the President's Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS, and other HHS personnel from the Office of HIV/AIDS Policy and the Indian Health Service. In addition, Mr. Greg Millett and Mr. James Albino from the White House's Office of National AIDS Policy attended the session to hear first-hand from the community representatives.
Those sharing comments were a diverse group including men and women, people living with HIV/AIDS, youth and seniors and those in between. They hail from many cities across the U.S. from Baltimore to Nashville to Los Angeles. They were lesbian, gay, transgender and straight, African American, Hispanic American, Asian and Pacific Islander, Native American and Caucasian American. Participants included representatives of state and local health departments and community-based organizations engaged in prevention and care as well as national organizations and advocacy networks. Their experience spanned a wide range of HHS-supported HIV/AIDS activities including work with CDC, HRSA, IHS, NIH, and SAMHSA as well as activities of the Departments of Housing and Urban Development and Justice. View a list of participants (PDF, 23 KB).
The thoughtful and often passionate recommendations addressed a range of issues spanning all three of the Strategy's goals as well as the need for a more coordinated response to the epidemic. The community members were nearly uniform in their expressions of appreciation for the nation's first comprehensive HIV/AIDS strategy and optimistic about the great potential it holds for transforming the epidemic in the United States. They were equally forthcoming in their expression of the need to critically examine current programs, policies and practices and make whatever changes are necessary to achieve the goals of the strategy.
Participants also expressed appreciation for the engagement of community members throughout the process of developing the strategy and encouraged continued engagement efforts throughout the implementation process.
During the meeting several participants raised concerns about the adequacy of resources to achieve the goals of the strategy, in particular related to the AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP), as well as scaled-up prevention efforts. A number of participants asked specifically what steps will be taken to engage and support state and local governments and other stakeholders in achieving more coordinated programs. Others conveyed concern about the potential for some groups with smaller numbers of people living with HIV or AIDS to be overshadowed with the strategy's emphasis on populations most impacted. They shared specific suggestions regarding transgendered people, Native Americans, Asians and Pacific Islanders, older Americans, the homeless, and persons in correctional settings.
Other thoughtful suggestions were also shared on issues relating to workforce development, addressing HIV-related stigma, and the need to intensify public awareness efforts to reduce stigma and strengthen prevention efforts. Finally, several participants endorsed the planned cross-agency, multi-jurisdictional project that will focus on 12 geographic areas most heavily impacted by HIV/AIDS and offered recommendations about enhancing it.
Dr. Koh and I are grateful for the wisdom shared by these community members and will be sharing their recommendations with our colleagues across HHS as we collaborate to finalize our operational plan for National HIV/AIDS Strategy.