On Tuesday, June 15, 2021, The White House Office of National AIDS Policy, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and the U.S. Department of State (State Department) hosted a virtual webinar and conversation with senior federal officials and community leaders building on the 40th anniversary of HIV/AIDS and the United Nations (UN) High-Level Meeting (HLM) on AIDS. The webinar, 40 Years of Progress: It’s Time to End the HIV Epidemic Commemorative Dialogue, followed statements of commitment by President Joe Biden, the Secretaries of HHS and State Department, and the UN Political Declaration on HIV and AIDS. Opening remarks were delivered by Loyce Pace, Director, Office of Global Affairs, HHS and notably, Xavier Becerra, Secretary of HHS. The overall key theme of the webinar—highlighted throughout—is that while tremendous progress has been made in ending the HIV epidemic, there is still important work to be done; work that the U.S. Government is committed to doing.
Loyce Pace shared key celebratory progressive milestones in ending the HIV epidemic, including the UN HLM, the UNAIDS Global AIDS Strategy 2021—2026, and the newly-appointed Director of The White House Office of National AIDS Policy, Mr. Harold Phillips, the former Senior HIV Advisor at HHS’ Office of Infectious Disease and HIV/AIDS Policy (OIDP). Loyce touted President Biden’s statement detailing the tremendous progress made and the work still ahead in order to “achieve equitable access to prevention, care, and treatment in every community—particularly for communities of color and the LGBTQ+ community.”
In his recorded video remarks, Secretary Becerra declared that the “U.S. Government is deeply committed to ending the HIV epidemic once and for all. We know that we now have the tools to accomplish that goal.” Secretary Becerra expounded on the government’s themes for the 40th anniversary: “We recommit ourselves to the work that must be completed to end the HIV epidemic. We recommit to reenergizing a whole of society effort towards this end, and we recommit to reengaging all sectors of American and global society in order to meet this objective.”
Dr. Timothy Harrison, Deputy Director for Strategic Initiatives & Senior Policy Advisor, OIDP, introduced Dr. Jen Kates, Senior Vice President and Director of Global Health & HIV Policy at Kaiser Family Foundation and Harold Phillips before they discussed the state of the domestic HIV epidemic response. Jen summarized the current policy environment of the U.S. response to HIV. Next, Harold shared an overview of his top priorities for moving aggressively on the equity front for HIV programs in the U.S. For an equitable response, Harold said, “we need a cross-government approach. We need input from the departments and other programs that often work to address social determinants of health. We need to ensure that there is an equitable approach that places black, brown, and indigenous people at the center of those responses.”
Dr. Angeli Achrekar, Acting U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator and Special Representative for Global Health Diplomacy, United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), spoke next on the state of the global response to HIV. Angeli reiterated that “PEPFAR is now supporting over 18.2 million people on treatment.” She shared that achieving and maintaining epidemic control is key, as well as investing in people at greatest risk and targeting those investments to where the greatest needs and gaps are prevalent. “Ending the inequities that continue to impede our progress [and…] ensuring people-centered services—to put people at the center and make sure that our programming is addressing their very specific needs,” helps ensure that PEPFAR is providing life-long services.
Final speaker, Greg Millett, Vice President and Director, Public Policy, amfAR, discussed how HIV has changed the world, and similarities between COVID-19 and HIV. Greg discussed clinicians on the front lines, the power of community, the recognition of overlapping epidemics, and the role of advances in science in the HIV epidemic.
As the speakers noted, ending the HIV epidemic cannot be achieved alone. We look to stakeholders and community partners to reiterate the messages and commitment to doing the hard work in their own communities. This can be done by talking to colleagues and partners about what you heard in today’s webinar and sharing your commitment to ending the HIV epidemic; ensuring key messages are included when developing documents and talking points; and reaching out to new partners to enhance and/or establish new programs. As Harold stated, the work in ending the HIV epidemic “is going to call for new partnerships, potentially new programs, and an increased focus on the need to address HIV not just as a medical issue but as a social justice issue.”