Ed. note: This is cross-posted on the AIDS.gov blog. See the original post here.
Over the past month, the White House Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP) hosted a series of listening sessions in four cities across the country—Los Angeles, Nashville, Detroit, and Boston—to gather community perspectives that will inform its update of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy (NHAS). At each session, Mr. Douglas M. Brooks, MSW, Director of ONAP, discussed the process underway to review and update the NHAS, which will continue to guide the U.S. government and partners’ response to HIV/AIDS domestically for the next 5 years. He then listened to community input, beginning with ideas shared by a panel of local HIV community leaders assembled for each session. This post shares highlights from each of those sessions.
The first goal of the Strategy is to reduce new HIV infections in the U.S. by intensifying prevention efforts in our most heavily-impacted communities; expanding comprehensive, evidence-based prevention approaches; and educating all Americans about HIV. Los Angeles County has seen a substantial decrease in HIV diagnoses—nearly 40% between 2010 and 2013—so it was a natural place to hold the first forum on April 22, focusing on reducing new HIV infections.
Dr. Eugene McCray, the director of CDC’s Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention, participated in this forum, discussing CDC’s High-Impact Prevention approach to reducing new HIV infections, guidelines for routine HIV testing and clinical guidelines for the provision of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).
Among the recommendations delivered by community participants at this forum were:
Increasing access to care and improving health outcomes for people living with HIV, the Strategy’s second goal, was the focus of the April 24 listening session in Nashville, Tennessee. Approximately 60 people participated in the session, including providers from community-based organizations and healthcare organizations, people living with HIV, and advocates.
I was honored to be part of the Nashville meeting and provided an overview of the HIV care continuum in the U.S. and in Tennessee.
Participants expressed strong support for the continuation of the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program to provide vital services to uninsured and under-insured individuals, even in the era of expanded health coverage made possible through the Affordable Care Act. Other recommendations from the community participants in Nashville included:
The Thursday, May 7, listening session in Detroit focused on the third NHAS goal, reducing HIV-related health disparities. Joining Director Brooks for this session was Dr. Gina Brown of NIH’s Office of AIDS Research who provided an overview of national HIV epidemiology as well as data on the epidemic in Michigan, underscoring that African Americans are disproportionately impacted in both. She also discussed how NIH research informs the NHAS goals. Nearly 75 participants attended and shared their observations and recommendations.
Notably, several of the suggestions dealt with the need to better confront and combat HIV-related stigma and discrimination, reported by participants to be stronger in some communities than in others. Participants called for continued efforts to reduce stigma against people living with HIV, sexual minorities, including sexual minority youth, and others.
Among the other community suggestions shared in Detroit were:
The series of listening sessions concluded on Friday, May 8, in Boston with a forum discussing ideas about how to achieve greater coordination at the federal, state and community levels through integration and innovation to improve outcomes along the HIV care continuum. Dr. Andrew Forsyth, Senior Science Advisor in the HHS Office of HIV/AIDS and Infectious Disease Policy, joined Mr. Brooks for this session. He provided an epidemiological overview of the HIV epidemic in the U.S. and in Massachusetts, observing that if we are to achieve the goals of the NHAS, we must align resources to match the burden of the epidemic.
Nearly 100 participants shared their recommendations about how the nation could reach the goal of improved coordination, including:
Participants also shared recommendations related to other NHAS goals, including:
While the listening sessions were convened for the purpose of informing the development of the updated NHAS, Director Brooks reminded participants at all the forums that the Strategy is a national plan, not merely a federal one, and it requires action by all sectors of society if we are to achieve its goals. Thus, the recommendations offered at the listening sessions provide all HIV community stakeholders with an opportunity to reflect on whether and how they may be able to address them to improve HIV prevention, care and treatment services in their own communities.
If you have recommendations about updating the NHAS, you can share them online –or vote for or comment on suggestions made by others – until May 22, 2015 using this feedback forum hosted by AIDS.gov for the White House Office of National AIDS Policy. Read more about this opportunity.