Last week, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) convened a meeting of its department-wide National HIV/AIDS Strategy (NHAS) Implementation Group. This was the first meeting of the group since the completion of the HHS NHAS Operational Plan and its public release in mid-February. During the meeting, representatives of operational divisions and staff offices discussed ongoing activities, shared updates about recent progress on activities detailed in the Department’s Operational Plan, and identified opportunities for further collaboration.
Implementation Group chairman, Dr. Howard Koh, Assistant Secretary for Health, thanked the participants for their continued leadership and reflected on the significant progress made by the Department in the nearly nine months since the White House released the Strategy. He observed that he has heard both excitement and enthusiasm from advocates and community members about the NHAS and the Department’s progress to date. At the same time, though, advocates, stakeholders and leaders—including the Secretary of HHS—have high expectations for the Department’s continued coordination and collaboration to achieve the Strategy’s significant goals.
Mr. Jeffrey Crowley, Director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy, commended the group on its accomplishments to date and its continued momentum. He also discussed some of the significant elements (PDF 250KB) of the President’s FY2012 Budget that support the implementation of the Strategy and have important implications for HHS. Finally, Mr. Crowley urged continued coordination and collaboration among agencies on several key activities including efforts to reduce grantee burden, sustain ongoing participation in the 12 Cities Project, and plan how to report on the first year of the nation’s efforts to implement the Strategy.
Among the activities the group discussed were progress and opportunities in the 12 Cities Project as it continues to evolve. Representatives of key agencies shared brief overviews of recent activities in support of this HHS-wide project.
- CDC’s Dr. Kevin Fenton reported that the 12 jurisdictions had submitted their enhanced comprehensive HIV prevention plans that are being reviewed at CDC, a requirement of the CDC-funded initiative that provided the foundation on which the broader 12 Cities Project was built. He also announced that the funding opportunity announcement (FOA) for Phase II of that project had been released and the 12 jurisdictions had been invited to apply for funding to support implementation of their enhanced prevention plans.
- HRSA’s Dr. Deborah Parham Hopson reported that the HIV/AIDS Bureau (HAB) has sent letters to the Ryan White Part A grantees in each of the 12 jurisdictions asking them to actively participate in the 12 Cities Project, strongly encouraging them to coordinate their planning, and even giving them examples of what that might look like. HRSA is also working to engage the Ryan White Parts B, C and D grantees in those jurisdictions as well as the AIDS Education and Training Centers (AETCs).
- Dr. Seiji Hayashi recounted that HRSA’s Bureau of Primary Health Care (BPHC) has sent guidance to all Community Health Center grantees on the importance of routine HIV screening and linkage to care. BPHC is in the process of finalizing a second program assistance letter, about HIV treatment, which it has developed with input from CDC, HRSA-HAB, and NIH. HRSA is also providing training to its project officers about HIV/AIDS generally and the 12 Cities Project specifically.
- Dr. Gretchen Stiers of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reported that the agency is exploring several opportunities through which it could actively support the 12 jurisdictions in better integrating substance abuse and mental health services and treatment for HIV-positive individuals or those most at risk of HIV infection.
- Dr. Carl Dieffenbach of NIH’s National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases discussed efforts underway to support collaborations between the Centers for AIDS Research (CFAR) located in 9 of the 12 jurisdictions with their local health departments.
- Other activities related to the 12 Cities Project that we discussed included efforts to bring each agency’s relevant grantees in the respective communities into the process, pursuing greater utilization of common or shared metrics across programs, potential opportunities to jointly fund and administer specifically targeted activities, and the possibility of multi-agency site visits to the 12 cities to identify additional ways these agencies can support each jurisdiction’s efforts. In addition, we discussed future opportunities to engage relevant programs and activities funded by other HHS agencies and offices such as the Office of Population Affairs and the Regional Health Administrators.
We also shared with the group updates on other NHAS implementation activities including the recent consultation with the LGBT community and on plans being developed by the Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships to engage faith communities in HIV awareness outreach, testing, and stigma reduction.
We all left the meeting with a deeper understanding of the range of Strategy implementation activities underway across the Department as well as with several new ideas for collaborative activities. Though we are all in frequent contact with one another on particular activities, these face-to-face discussions are important opportunities to pause and reflect on the larger picture as well as on our progress and next steps. The Implementation Group will continue to meet quarterly.