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Implementing the National HIV/AIDS Strategy at the Community Level

Now that the National HIV/AIDS Strategy has been released and the lead Federal agencies are working on preparing their report to the President before the December 9th due date, the ONAP team has switched focus on assessing the implementation of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy at all levels. Of course, at the Federal level Secretary Sebelius and her very capable team are primarily responsible for bring all of this together. Working with our Federal partners ONAP is taking a cross sectional look at how the implementation process is moving along, especially at the community level.

Shortly after the release of the Strategy I had an opportunity to travel to southern Arizona where I met with several community based organizations, local county health officials and service providers as well as individual living with HIV/AIDS. Border Health has been an issue that I have been particularly interested in. I was struck by two things; first, the level of enthusiasm and commitment by many individuals at the local level with respect to the Strategy. Several of the individuals that I talked to have been working in the HIV/AIDS field for many years. They have waited a long time to get clear, direct and committed guidance on how to fight this epidemic from the highest level of our government, and were anxious to get started.

“We just completed our five year plan, here” said Wendell Hicks, executive director of the Southern Arizona AIDS Foundation, an organizations whose mission is to provide compassionate medical care to people with HIV and to help prevent the spread of HIV through education and testing. He continued, “with the Strategy, we will now go back and see where we can realign our goals and objectives to match those of the Strategy”. In a follow up conversation, several Southern Arizona Health leaders committed to developing a local strategy using the National HIV/AIDS Strategy as a template. I am looking forward to returning to Southern Arizona in a year’s time to see what they have come up with.

I was also struck by the enthusiasm of many of the “promotoras” (Spanish for field health services navigators or outreach workers) that go out and engage the community to get tested and seek or stay in care. Their enthusiasm for the work they do and the gratitude for the guidance that the Strategy provides was contagious. One young “promotora”, a volunteer mother of two, whose son is HIV positive, commented that she had been encouraging individuals in her community to talk about HIV and get tested for over ten years. She was happy that the Strategy reinforced and supported her work.

I had a similar experience in Philadelphia, Pa. where The Black AIDS Institute, the National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS, BABASH and other local organizations hosted a discussion to discuss elements of the Strategy. There, several community leaders were encouraged that the Strategy addressed many of the issues that impacted their local communities. Several leaders, especially local health officials committed to going back to their own strategic plans and fine tune them so that they better align with the National HIV/AIDS Strategy. I committed to support their efforts and arranged for copies of the my presentation and the Strategy to be available for the next meeting. In total the group expects to conduct 11 such gathering nationwide.

We will continue to engage the local community and encourage them to read the Strategy and to explore ways to implement it in their local setting. We anticipate that the reports due back from the various lead Federal agencies, especially HHS will provide the community greater specificity. Moving forward, we will soon (September 23, 1pm) host a meeting here in the White House with Federal, state and local stakeholders in the Latino Community to explore how they are implementing the Strategy in their communities. Separately, we are working with Faith leaders to develop a tool kit that they may use to highlight the goals and measures of the Strategy during upcoming World AIDS Day (December 1) events.

I am encouraged that as more and more community leaders read, study and learn of the goals and measures of the Strategy they will begin to explore ways of implementing it in their organizations.

James Albino is a Senior Program Manager in the Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP)