HHS provided an implementation update on the Ending the HIV Epidemic initiative during NASTAD’s virtual annual meeting on May 18, 2020. Harold Phillips, Senior HIV Advisor and Chief Operating Officer of the Ending the HIV Epidemic initiative at the HHS Office of Infectious Disease and HIV/AIDS Policy (OIDP), spoke to the public health officials who administer state and local HIV and hepatitis programs during an hour-long session that also included updates from CDC and HRSA.
Responding to the Cornavirus Pandemic
Phillips began by acknowledging the impact the COVID-19 pandemic is having on everyone’s work and he applauded the public health partners participating in the virtual meeting for all their efforts to support that response while also working to continue delivering HIV prevention and care services in communities across the nation. To support their pandemic response efforts, he highlighted a new page on HIV.gov that provides the latest information on coronavirus (COVID-19) and people with HIV, including a collection of related resources from federal partners. He also applauded federal partners for producing these useful resources and for their work to provide some new flexibilities to support grantees to continue providing access to critically important HIV prevention and care services, such as options for telemedicine consultations, self-testing, and more.
EHE Implementation Update
In recent meetings ADM Brett Giroir, HHS Assistant Secretary for Health, has reiterated that the response to HIV and Ending the HIV Epidemic: A Plan for America (EHE) remain Administration priorities, Mr. Phillips shared. He stated that there are no plans to adjust the EHE goals at this time, even though everyone understands that implementation of some activities may be delayed or modified due to the coronavirus response efforts. We need to do everything we can to reduce new HIV transmissions; no one involved wants to see another 38,000 new transmissions in our country, Phillips continued. He also reviewed some highlights of EHE implementation to date, including:
- Supporting the Phase I jurisdictions in developing draft EHE plans and providing feedback on those plans from CDC, HRSA and HHS.
- Supporting 4 EHE jumpstart sites—in Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland and the Cherokee Nation – to gather lessons and implementation ideas.
- Awarding funds to support HIV testing, expanded PrEP access, and HIV care services to community health centers and Ryan White HIV/AIDS Programs in the 57 Phase I jurisdictions.
- Deploying USPHS PACE Officers to support EHE activities in HHS Regions 4, 6, and 9.
- Implementing the Ready, Set, PrEP program to provide PrEP medications at no cost to individuals who qualify and related marketing efforts and pharmacy partnerships.
Looking ahead, Mr. Phillips shared that HHS is developing the EHE data dashboard that will track progress toward the initiative’s goals nationally and by jurisdiction. The HHS partners will preview the online dashboard with the 57 Phase I EHE jurisdictions before it is released publically, he promised. He and his HHS colleagues are also continuing to work on internal collaborations across agencies—including a possible future collaboration with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS)—as well as engaging federal partners beyond HHS, including the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Housing Opportunities for People With AIDS (HOPWA) program and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. In addition, HHS partners are working to develop strategies to engage other sectors of society in EHE, including the business community, professional medical and healthcare societies, and others. (Read more about EHE on HIV.gov’s recently updated and expanded EHE pages.)
FY20 Minority HIV/AIDS Fund Awards
OIDP recently awarded resources from the FY20 Minority HIV/AIDS Fund (MHAF) to nine projects, Phillips also reported. Projects that will be led by CDC, HRSA, and IHS received awards and each is aligned with one or more EHE priorities. HRSA recently released Notices of Funding Opportunity for its three MHAF-supported projects, Improving Care and Treatment Coordination for Black Women with HIV, Building Capacity to Implement Rapid Antiretroviral (ART) Initiation, and Reducing Stigma at Systems, Organizational, and Individual Client Levels in the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program.
HIV, Viral Hepatitis, & STI Strategic Plans
Finally, Mr. Phillips shared that OIDP continues facilitating collaborative efforts across HHS and with other Federal departments to develop the updated national strategic plans for HIV and viral hepatitis, and a new one for STIs. The HIV and viral hepatitis plans build on the current and prior national strategies and all three plans have been informed by significant stakeholder input gathered over the past year. Each will be a five-year plan with annual targets. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has delayed the completion and planned release of those plans and the federal implementation plans that will follow them.
Time of Innovation
Amid the strains brought on from responding to COVID-19, Mr. Phillips observed that HIV, viral hepatitis, and STI programs are also faced with some new opportunities to apply the knowledge and skills developed in responding to those diseases in the midst of this new major public health issue. Many of the same communities disproportionately impacted by HIV, viral hepatitis, and STIs are also withstanding the worst of the new coronavirus. He expressed confidence that in this time of great need, HIV, viral hepatitis, and STI programs will innovate in their responses to those diseases and inform strategies for the coronavirus response as well.