D.C. AIDS Agency Realigns, Sets Goals

Health department head remains as interim leader of DC's HIV/AIDS Administration

Since naming himself interim director of the city’s HIV/AIDS Administration (HAA) in January, D.C. Department of Health Director of Dr. Gregg Pane has taken a bit of flack from at least one corner: David Mariner’s blog, www.fighthivindc.org.

”[Pane] was a no-show at last week’s HIV Community Planning Group Meeting,” Mariner blogged Jan. 16. ”… [Pane] is holding up approval of the new HIV Community Planning Group members. … We either need [Pane] to step up, or we need a new director of [HAA] as soon as possible.”

Though Pane’s office did not return a request for comment regarding Mariner’s concerns, his office did release a statement Feb. 2 announcing changes at HAA dubbed an ”interim realignment and call to action.”

While Pane will remain as HAA’s interim head, the plan breaks the administration into six components: office of the senior deputy director, grants management/fiscal control office, surveillance and epidemiology bureau, prevention and intervention services bureau, primary care and case management bureau, and the capacity building and community outreach bureau.

The announcement listed priorities for HAA, to be acted upon within the next 60 to 90 days: the completion of AIDS case reporting for 2006 and earlier; distribution of HIV rapid-test kits; distribution of 250,000 condoms; development of a prevention program targeting D.C. youth; outline a citywide HIV/AIDS strategy; conduct site visits to all HAA-funded providers; and implementation of capacity-building initiatives in Ward 7 and 8.

”This move is part of our commitment to invest time and money into the creation and implementation of strategies to address this epidemic in a responsible manner,” Pane says in the statement. ”We are at the beginning of an exciting time.”

Mariner maintains, however, that the fight against HIV/AIDS in the district has been long on goals and short on accomplishment.

”It’s unrealistic to believe he can accomplish part-time what others have not accomplished full time,” says Mariner. ”And the goals he’s set are goals that have been set before. [Former HAA director] Marsha Martin had goals for HIV testing and condom distribution. Setting goals is nothing new. Accomplishing them would be.”

Other locals in fight offer a more optimistic reaction to the Feb. 2 news from Pane’s office.

”I think that [Pane is] on target,” offers Earl Fowlkes Jr., executive director of the D.C. Comprehensive AIDS Resource and Education (CARE) Consortium. ”There was a meeting with Dr. Pane and a number of [HIV/AIDS organizations] executive directors in our office recently. He stayed for almost two hours. It was a very positive exchange. I think this level of interaction is something we’ve not had in a long time. … We believe that he has an understanding of the issues and problems at HAA. The realignment is a step in the right direction.”

Whitman-Walker Clinic spokesperson Kim Mills says the clinic and Fowlkes are in agreement in their assessment of Pane and his new plan.

”We’re very supportive of what Dr. Pane has been trying to do at DOH and now at HAA,” she says. ”It looks like he’s really rolling up his sleeves. They’re trying to get control of an agency that has a troubled past. We concur with his priorities. We think he’s on target.”

In other local HIV/AIDS news, the D.C.-based National Minority AIDS Council on Feb. 5 announced the formation of a new advocacy coalition: the National Minority Policy Partnership on HIV/AIDS. The new coalition includes the NAACP, National Council of La Raza, Asian American Justice Center, the United Church of Christ, and several other organizations.

”The devastating impact of this epidemic across minority communities — African-American, Latino, Native-American and Asian — requires a strong, united and national response,” said NMAC’s Damon Dozier in a release accompanying the Feb. 5 announcement. ”This new policy partnership promises to be a dynamic and powerful advocacy voice to improve HIV awareness, prevention and access to care in the nation’s minority communities.”

Follow Will O'Bryan on Twitter @wobryan.

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