I just returned from the National HIV Prevention Conference in Atlanta where a sense of excitement and renewed enthusiasm for fighting the HIV/AIDS pandemic were buoyed by the new opportunities that the Obama administration brings. Conversely, there was also an underlying current of anxiety about how our country’s economic situation is affecting HIV prevention services. First, let’s start with the positive.
There is great interest and anticipation around the President’s call for the development and implementation of a National HIV Strategy. The three main priorities of this plan include: 1) reducing HIV incidence; 2) improving access to care and optimizing health outcomes for people infected with HIV; and 3) reducing HIV-related health disparities. During the Atlanta conference, Jeff Crowley, the director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy, spoke of the community forums his office is conducting in 14 U.S. cities most affected by HIV/AIDS to solicit public input on how to form this national strategy. Additionally, ONAP is encouraging community-based groups, such as churches, businesses, and schools to hold their own discussions on how to best address the HIV/AIDS problem here in the United States.
In his presentation, Crowley was refreshingly direct about the processes, priorities, and prospects for the National HIV Strategy and the possibility of additional HIV/AIDS resources. Most of the attendees I spoke with appreciated his forthright comments and are encouraged that the outstanding team he has assembled can effectively lead this effort. Now, it’s up to each of us to actively participate in the development of the National AIDS Strategy.
The second hot topic of the conference was less upbeat, and involved concerns about the negative toll our nation’s economic situation is having on state and local government spending for HIV/AIDS prevention and other services. Dire budget situations reinforce the common perceptions that financial support for HIV prevention has “flat-lined” and newly funded HIV activities will replace existing, effective programs. Furthermore, there is a fear that new biomedical HIV prevention strategies will position HIV prevention squarely in the medical community’s domain, thereby displacing many of the HIV prevention service providers working today. This fear is primarily related to research now underway examining the use of antiretroviral HIV treatments as a way to prevent HIV infection among people at high risk for infection. There’s a strong belief that if pre-exposure prophylaxis or PrEP works to prevent HIV infection among different populations, it should be added to the toolbox of effective prevention strategies. Discussions have already begun about how to best implement PrEP if proven effective.
Both the discussion of the National HIV Strategy and concerns about implementing new HIV prevention strategies reinforced the urgent need to enhance communication between the research community and those on the front lines of preventing HIV infection. At the end of the day, we all need to work together to achieve our collective goal of ending the HIV/AIDS pandemic.