It’s a great honor to join an Administration that’s done so much to address the HIV epidemic. I especially want to acknowledge ONAP’s prior director, Jeff Crowley, for his stellar leadership over the past three years.
This is a transformative time for HIV prevention and care: recent research breakthroughs in testing and treatment mean that a future AIDS-free generation is a real possibility. While there is much to be done, it is remarkable how far we’ve come.
I’m especially grateful that my first day on the job included a White House commemoration of National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. This meeting of community members, researchers, and Federal representatives focused on the intersection of HIV/AIDS, violence against women, and gender-related disparities. We reviewed data that show women account for nearly a quarter of new HIV cases in the United States, and that the majority of these cases are among women of color. Especially concerning is that HIV infection rates among black women are over fifteen times higher than in white women; rates among Hispanics/Latinas are five times higher.
The meeting included the announcement of the formation of two important working groups to make recommendations for moving forward on this important issue. The inter-agency Federal working group will be co-chaired by me and Lynn Rosenthal, the White House Advisor on Violence Against Women, and will comprise of members of multiple Federal agencies to ensure an interdisciplinary and coordinated approach. A second group comprised of a diversity of members from the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA) will also meet soon. I’d like to thank personally the meeting’s organizers, speakers and participants for an inspirational event.
The working groups’ recommendations will include informing the multiple current Federal efforts addressing the HIV care and treatment needs of women and girls. Some examples are the CDC’s “Take Charge. Take the Test” initiative to increase HIV testing among women; the NIH-supported WIHS study, the longest ongoing women’s cohort study ever in the United States; and the expansion of HIV testing and linkage to care efforts at Family Planning Clinics. Perhaps most exciting, in 2011 alone, the Affordable Care Act expanded coverage of preventive services to 54 million people, including more than 20 million women.
On a more personal note, as a healthcare provider and someone who has guided implementation of HIV prevention efforts at the local level, I will ensure that the voices of persons living with HIV and those at high risk of infection, including women, are at the front and center of ONAP’s work, every day. It is only through listening to these voices that we will be able to move forward effectively in confronting the epidemic.
Within this context, I look forward to leading ONAP and guiding implementation of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, with the goal of realizing the President’s vision that “The United States will become a place where new HIV infections are rare, and when they do occur, every person, regardless of age, gender, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, or socio-economic circumstance, will have unfettered access to high quality, life-extending care, free from stigma and discrimination." We all share this vision. Working together, we will make it a reality.
Dr. Grant Colfax is Director of the Office of National AIDS Policy