Those of us who have worked in this office have known for some time that there is group of talented people working in the 10 HHS regional offices to help improve HIV prevention and care for racial and ethnic minorities. I wanted to share this blog with you to show them some appreciation and let you know about their good work. Now I’m not basing this just on my own opinion, but on the opinions of more than 500 stakeholders who took the time to tell an independent group of evaluators what they thought about the work of women and men who make up the HIV/AIDS Regional Resource Network Program (RRNP).
The RRNP builds partnerships and offers innovative strategies in the 10 HHS regions in collaboration with local, state, and regional HIV/AIDS prevention, health care, social services, and advocacy organizations. An independent evaluation found it to be successful in its work to mobilize partners to promote HIV testing and address social factors that serve as barriers to optimal HIV care in racial/ethnic minority communities that are disproportionately affected by HIV in the United States.
The program was established as part of the Secretary’s Minority AIDS Initiative Fund (SMAIF) by U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in 1999. The RRNP works within each of the HHS Regions to support a more coordinated response to the HIV epidemic, as called for in the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, that is fully based on an understanding of the realities, capacities, and needs in cities, counties, and states that make up each region. To achieve a successful national response, we need successful responses at all of these levels—if we do not succeed in our cities, counties, states, and regions, how can we succeed as a nation?
The program supports a full-time Regional Resource Consultant (RRC) in each HHS regional office who develops partnerships with government and community-based organizations and provides HIV/AIDS education and technical assistance to regional, state, and local entities. RRCs collaborate with and provide technical assistance to state and local health departments, Federally Qualified Health Centers, community-based organizations, AIDS service organizations, faith-based organizations, and other public and private entities to expand and strengthen activities serving racial/ethnic minorities that increase HIV testing, improve linkage to HIV care, enhance retention and care and viral suppression, and reduce HIV-related stigma. The RRCs can address a wide range of issues, tapping into resources across HHS. They also bring specialized knowledge and experience as a result of their professional training and prior work experience on specific HIV-related issues affecting racial and ethnic minorities. They also gain valuable information from working in the regions, sharing that information and community feedback directly with HHS leadership regarding prevention, care, and treatment services necessary to fight HIV.
To assess the program, a team of evaluators surveyed RRNP partners from all 10 regions about their perceptions of the program and experiences with its activities in 2015. A total of 525 stakeholders, about 1 in 5 of those asked to participate, responded. They represented both governmental and non-governmental agencies across all 10 HHS Regions. They were asked about their participation in RRNP-sponsored events, the types of new partnerships they have established as the result of RRNP efforts, the level of assistance provided by RRCs, and other questions pertaining to how the RRNP has enhanced their ability to network with others in their community engaged in HIV activities and coordinate HIV services. The resulting report focused on the perceptions of key partners, but did not assess the impact of the RRNP. However, the partner feedback provides valuable insight on the program.
Among the evaluators’ key findings were:
- The RRNP supports the SMAIF goal of reducing HIV-related health disparities. Overall, 90.4% of respondents indicated the RRNP has had some level of success in contributing to reducing HIV-related disparities among communities of color that are disproportionately affected by the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
- The RRNP helps organizations form and improve partnerships to address HIV. Well over half of respondents (60.8%) felt the RRNP has helped their organization improve existing relationships with partners such as HIV-related local, state, or federal offices and HIV prevention, care, and testing providers. Similarly, over half of respondents (56.1%) felt the RRNP has created opportunities for their organization to establish new partnerships supporting their HIV work.
- The RRNP is successful at mobilizing partners to promote HIV testing. One of the RRNP’s activities is to mobilize communities to encourage people to be tested for HIV. Their mobilization efforts particularly focus on members of racial and ethnic minority groups, who bear a disproportionate burden of HIV. Data from the partner survey indicates the RRNP plays a significant role in mobilizing partners to increase HIV testing activities through various means, including exchanging information and ideas, bringing together diverse stakeholders, sharing resources, and fostering informal relationships, all of which are effective strategies for expanding focused HIV testing activities.
- The RRNP assists partners in achieving their goals. The majority of respondents (80.1%) felt the RRNP’s influence has been valuable in helping their organization to achieve their goals. In addition, as a result of working with the RRNP, 55.5% of respondents indicated they have increased their knowledge of the HIV services provided in their region and 55.5% noted they are now sharing resources to increase the provision of services (e.g., collaborative HIV testing events, outreach, or housing fairs).
Ongoing Efforts to Assist Disproportionately Affected Populations
Responding to the ever-evolving HIV landscape, the RRNP will continue to serve its regions by working collaboratively with key stakeholders to promote and maximize the opportunities for racial and ethnic minority person to obtain high-quality HIV, STI, and viral hepatitis prevention, testing, and linkage to health care. Currently, the core activities of the RRCs include increasing community and provider knowledge about the importance of timely HIV treatment and it ability (when viral suppression is achieved and maintained) to prevent sexual transmission of HIV; supporting awareness and uptake of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP); engaging in data-driven efforts to improve health outcomes among racial and ethnic minorities; addressing prevention, diagnosis, and medical care of HIV and HCV co-infection; improving the identification of and effective responses to HIV outbreaks; and strengthening the public health and community responses to the opioid epidemic, especially among racial and ethnic minorities.
The RRNP works to ensure that racial and ethnic minorities have the same chances to benefit from advances in HIV prevention, testing, and care regardless of the region that they live in or the color of their skin. These RRNP activities are conducted in collaboration with community-based organizations and governments at all levels within the region and provide important ties to the federal response to HIV and viral hepatitis as well. The results of this evaluation do not prove the RRNP is changing the course of the epidemic in these communities, but they do show that others believe that this SMAIF-supported activity fosters and supports strategic partnerships and collaboration, breaks down program silos, and develops new ways of working together that have the potential to reduce new HIV infections, increase awareness of HIV status, and improve the health of racial and ethnic minority men, women and children This program has the potential to touch the lives of so many people living with HIV in every state and every region of this country. We applaud the RRCs for what they do to improve these lives of so many Americans who deserve to live without unnecessary fear of HIV or its consequences that remain much more deadly among some racial and ethnic minority populations.