This year’s annual U.S. Conference on HIV/AIDS (USCHA) concluded on October 21 with a plenary session featuring several federal HIV leaders and I was honored to be included. I am grateful to NMAC for convening this conference virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic, enabling the community along with federal and state partners to continue to share important information, strategies, and experiences about HIV, sexually transmitted infections, viral hepatitis, leadership, and race. Following are some highlights of what I shared with the participants.
Status and Next Steps for the Ending the HIV Epidemic Initiative
Naturally, participants wanted to know about the status of Ending the HIV Epidemic: A Plan for America (EHE) given all that has happened this year and what lies ahead for this national initiative. I reiterated that EHE remains a priority at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and that its agencies and offices are moving forward with implementation activities. Some important EHE developments include:
- The 57 jurisdictions prioritized in the initiative’s first phase are working to revise their EHE Plans based on feedback CDC, HHS, and HRSA shared on the draft plans back in March. Acknowledging the impact of the response to COVID-19 on state and local health departments and their key community partners, the deadline for submitting the revised plans was extended to December 31, 2020.
- The Ready, Set, PrEP program, which provides PrEP medications at no cost to individuals who qualify, made some COVID-related adaptations earlier this year to help ensure patient retention in ongoing PrEP care and adherence to medications, and also reduce the burden on the nation’s health care providers and health care systems. The program authorized 90-day prescription fills and implemented automatic enrollment eligibility extensions between June 1 and September 29. We’ll be making enhancements to GetYourPrEP.com, the enrollment portal for Ready, Set, PrEP in the coming weeks. Soon you’ll see additional Ready, Set, PrEP marketing assets featuring real people who take PrEP telling their stories of how PrEP has affected their lives.
- In August, we launched America’s HIV Epidemic Analysis Dashboard, known as AHEAD. It’s an online data visualization tool designed to help jurisdictions, researchers, public health professionals, HIV service organizations, and others across the country track progress towards meeting EHE goals. AHEAD displays graphical representations of data on the six EHE HIV indicators for the 57 jurisdictions prioritized in the initiative, as well as state data for the 21 states in which EHE counties are located. In collaboration with our partners at CDC, additional data was recently added to the site. The new indicator data includes preliminary 2019 data and data on the first quarter of 2020 on HIV diagnoses and linkage to HIV medical care.
- To continue making progress on EHE’s Diagnose strategy, HHS, CDC, HRSA, IHS, and SAMHSA are encouraging and facilitating HIV self-testing options in communities where there has been a reduction in availability of in-person HIV testing due to COVID-19. Self-testing can be an effective on-going strategy to help identify and link individuals to needed HIV prevention and care services in a post-COVID-19 world. Jurisdictions are encouraged to explore ways HIV self-testing can help us meet our EHE targets for HIV diagnoses.
- The Prevention through Active Community Engagement (PACE) officers, a team of U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps officers supporting EHE activities in HHS Regions 4, 6, and 9, continue their work to facilitate broad community involvement in the development and implementation of jurisdictional EHE plans. They are also facilitating discussions about the intersection of HIV disparities and social determinants of health and racial inequality.
Damián Cabrera-Candelaria, Treatment Program Manager at NMAC, the USCHA conference convenor, also asked me about efforts to combat racism in health services, whether employment opportunities for people with or affected by HIV will result from EHE, and responding to HIV in Puerto Rico, which was to have hosted this year’s USCHA.
The closing session also featured remarks from my federal colleagues and partners in the EHE initiative: CDC’s Dr. Jonathan Mermin, HRSA’s Dr. Laura Cheever, SAMHSA’s Dr. Neeraj Gandotra, NIH’S Dr. Maureen Goodenow, and NIH’s Dr. Anthony Fauci. You can view the closing plenary on YouTube.
Joining many colleagues from across the HIV community, I commend NMAC for innovating this year to make USCHA possible once again and salute their staff along with the many presenters and participants who shared ideas and learned from one another throughout the conference.