SAMHSA Observes World AIDS Day with Renewed Commitment to Ending the HIV Epidemic

Content From: Kristin Roha, MSc, MPH, Public Health Advisor, Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services AdministrationPublished: December 01, 20214 min read


Cross-posted from Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

Observed annually on December 1 since 1988, World AIDS Day allows the global community to unite with one voice to commemorate the people who have lost their lives to AIDS, show support of people living with and affected by HIV, and raise awareness for the continued importance of HIV prevention, care, and treatment. This year, World AIDS Day is especially poignant because 2021 marks 40 years since the beginning of the HIV epidemic.

At SAMHSA, we would like to take this opportunity to remember the more than 36 million people globally, including over 700,000 people in the United States, who have died from AIDS-related illness since the start of the HIV epidemic. We honor the progress the global community has made in the fight against HIV in the past 40 years while also recommitting to the global effort to end the HIV epidemic.

SAMHSA’s mission is to reduce the impact of substance abuse and mental illness on America’s communities. People with mental or substance use disorders are at an increased risk of HIV. Substance use and mental health treatment centers like those of SAMHSA’s grantees and partner organizations serve on the front lines of the HIV epidemic. They provide an important pathway to HIV testing, treatment for people who test positive, and prevention services to ensure that people who are HIV-negative stay negative.

As one of several collaborating HHS agencies participating in the federal initiative Ending the Epidemic in the U.S., SAMHSA’s principal goals are to: 1) reduce new HIV infections; 2) improve HIV-related health outcomes; 3) reduce HIV-related health disparities for racial and ethnic minority communities by increasing testing frequently; 4) increase referrals to treatment for HIV positive individuals; 5) provide pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) for HIV-negative individuals; and 6) support linkage to HIV treatment for enrollees that test HIV-positive.

The theme for World AIDS Day 2021 is Ending the HIV Epidemic: Equitable Access, Everyone’s Voice. SAMHSA is committed to using new strategies and innovative approaches to end the HIV epidemic. Led by our Office of Behavioral Health Equity, SAMHSA is working to put health equity at the center of our response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. SAMHSA funds several grant programs that address health inequalities experienced by communities disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS. The Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (CSAT) manages Minority AIDS Initiative: High Risk Populations, which focuses on increasing access to substance use and HIV prevention services for the highest risk and hardest-to-serve racial and ethnic minority populations. CSAT also funds the Targeted Capacity Expansion: HIV Program, which focuses on high-risk populations including racial and ethnic minority populations and gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals who have a substance use disorder or co-occurring disorder who are HIV positive or at risk for HIV/AIDS.

The Center for Mental Health Services funds the Minority AIDS Initiative: Service Integration grants, which focuses on integrated evidence-based, culturally competent mental and substance use disorder treatment with HIV primary care and prevention services to individuals with a serious mental illness or co-occurring disorder living with or at risk for HIV and/or hepatitis in at-risk populations. The Center for Substance Abuse Prevention funds SAMHSA’s Prevention Navigator Grants, which provide services to those at highest risk for HIV and substance use disorders using a navigation approach to expedite services for these populations.

While SAMHSA staff are proud of the work we have done and continue to do to extend substance abuse, mental health, and HIV care and treatment into those communities that are underserved, we recognize that there is still much to be done. We must still work to achieve equitable access to HIV prevention, care, and treatment in every community—particularly for communities of color, the LGBTQ+ community, and other key affected populations including people with substance use disorder and mental disorder.

Protecting and further expanding HIV progress will require a sustained commitment from all sectors of society and across other government approaches from countries throughout the world. Working together, and leveraging our respective comparative advantages, we can ensure the HIV services are available and accessible by people of every age, gender, and population group worldwide. SAMHSA’s grantees have developed innovative ways to deliver substance use disorder, mental disorder, and HIV testing and referrals.

On World AIDS Day 2021, SAMHSA staff commends our grantees, federal partners, and the substance use disorder and mental health community as a whole for working toward our shared goal of ending the HIV epidemic in the United States. Thank you for the work you do to save lives and improve the health of the people of America.