Metro Weekly

Navigating an Epidemic

White House unveils new national HIV/AIDS strategy

The White House Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP) presented its National HIV/AIDS Strategy during a press event at the White House on Tuesday, July 13.

It’s a plan of action that will receive $30 million dollars in funding from the Affordable Care Act’s Prevention Fund and seeks to reduce the number of new infections in the U.S. by 25 percent over the next five years.

The strategy is based around three main goals: reducing the number of people who become infected with HIV, increasing access to care and optimizing health outcomes for people living with HIV, and reducing HIV-related health disparities.

”This is a strategy that has been informed by your efforts,” said Dr. Howard Koh, assistant secretary for health at the Department of Health and Human Services.

”The voices of many Americans have shaped this strategy,” he said. “This strategy pays tribute to the many we have tragically lost to this epidemic, but it also represents a commitment from an entire nation for a healthier future.”

”The message is clear,” he said, that ”we need the entire country involved. … You don’t have to be infected to be affected by this virus.”

The 48-page plan is partly the result of suggestions ONAP has compiled over the past year from an Internet survey, as well as 14 community discussions around the country, including one in D.C.

Joining Koh onstage during the Tuesday presentation were Heatlh and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Domestic Policy Council Director Melody Barnes, and the ONAP Policy Director Jeffrey Crowley.

Sebelius said the new plan seeks to direct resources to communities that are more affected by HIV/AIDS: the African-American community as well as gay and bisexual men.

”What we’ve learned is that prevention is most successful when we use all the tools available,” she said. “Whether it’s educating people about health behaviors, or better substance-abuse treatment and prevention programs, or breakthrough medical research on vaccines. We’re taking an ‘all of the above’ approach.”

Crowley said the strategy “is not intended to be a comprehensive list of all the activities we need to do to address HIV. It is intended to be a concise plan that will set clear priorities and strategic action steps.”

Dan O’Neill, chair of the Gay/Bi/Trans HIV Prevention Working Group for The Center, D.C.’s LGBT community center, attended the meeting.

”It’s great in terms of strategy,” he said of the report, ”but in terms of implementation it could still be strengthened in a few ways.”

David Phillips, an HIV-positive activist living in D.C. and one of the more vocal voices at the original community gathering in D.C. in September, said he was pleased by the language used in the report.

”I was ecstatic that they managed to leave the epidemiological term ‘MSM’ for ‘men who have sex with men’ out of the text, and that they specifically referenced gay and bisexual men over and over and over,” he said.

”That was one of the things I had gone off about, because gay and bisexual men have learned to tune out that term ‘MSM’ because they don’t think it’s talking about them. They think it’s talking about men who have sex with men who don’t embrace a gay or bisexual identity. And if you want to reach people, you need to reach them the way they identify. I was like, ‘Oh, my God, they got it.”’

President Barack Obama underscored the strategy in a July 13 letter: ”Now is the time to build on and refocus our existing efforts to deliver better results for the American people.”