Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to spend time in Missouri speaking with audiences about the National HIV/AIDS Strategy (NHAS) and learning about what they are doing to support implementation of the Strategy locally. As in other communities across the country, the folks I spoke to in Kansas City and Jefferson City are eager to contribute locally to the nationwide efforts to achieve the Strategy’s goals.
In Kansas City, I spoke to the Campaign to End AIDS (C2EA) Annual Summit. C2EA is a diverse coalition of people living with HIV and AIDS, their advocates, colleagues, friends, and loved ones. The panel discussion in which I participated was entitled “National HIV/AIDS Strategy Implementation: Federal to State to Community.”
The title captures the importance of engaging all sectors of society in implementing the Strategy if we are to achieve its important and life-saving goals. Joining me on that panel was Missouri’s State AIDS Director, Michael Herbert, who shared some of the approaches his agency is taking to align programs and activities with the Strategy’s goals to reduce new HIV infections, increase access to care, and reduce HIV-related health disparities. I provided an overview of what is underway at the Federal level and also encouraged the participants to ground their efforts in science, conduct assessments so they know what works best in their community in terms of prevention and treatment, and scale up those efforts sufficient to meet demand in the communities most impacted.
My next stop was Lincoln University , a historically black university in Jefferson City, Missouri, where I participated in the school’s first HIV/AIDS summit. The student leaders and participants were very interested in learning more about HIV/AIDS risks and prevention as well as about the NHAS. They were particularly concerned to learn of that 21% of people living with HIV are unaware of their infections and that Blacks/African Americans constituted the largest estimated percentage of diagnoses of HIV infection each year among adolescents and young adults 13 to 24 years of age. Between 2005-2008, they accounted for 64% of new HIV infections in that age group in the United States. In my presentation, I provided overviews of the many Federal programs providing funding at the state and local levels for HIV prevention, care, and treatment. The conversation with the students that followed was frank and productive. I felt they all left the summit with a better understanding of HIV/AIDS and the Strategy and with ideas about expanding HIV/AIDS awareness campus wide. They were also interested in finding ways that they could be involved in the development of their statewide HIV/AIDS plan.
It is always rewarding and informative to get out to communities and engage in conversations like those I had last week in Missouri. I left heartened and encouraged by the enthusiasm and commitment of both groups as well as the state and local public health leadership I met with.