As the seasons begin to change in the Mountain West, we paused recently to share our efforts to pursue the goals of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy (NHAS) in the States in our region (Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming). On September 29, we held a special meeting of the Region VIII NHAS Federal Interagency Work Group to reflect on our progress and identify opportunities and priorities for the months ahead.
I wrote about the launch of our work group in a post last spring. The group is comprised of regional representatives from the U.S. Departments of Housing and Urban Development, Justice (Federal Bureau of Prisons), Labor, Veterans Affairs (Veterans Health Administration), and the Social Security Administration, along with regional representatives of several operating divisions within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services including the Administration on Aging, Health Resources and Services Administration, Office for Civil Rights, Office of Minority Health, Office on Women’s Health, Office of Population Affairs and the Office of the Regional Health Administrator. Colleagues from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Education have also participated. I am pleased to report that this multi-agency group has continued to confer and collaborate for the past six months, strengthening our HIV/AIDS prevention, care, and treatment efforts across the region and modeling the type of cross-agency, cross-program collaboration and innovation called for in the NHAS.
In addition to the work group members, several guests joined our September meeting, including:
- Dr. Ronald Valdiserri, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Health, Infectious Diseases, and Director, Office of HIV/AIDS Policy, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
- Mr. Ralph Wilmoth, HIV/AIDS Section Chief, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment;
- Mr. Edwin Espinel, Contract Monitor, Utah Department of Health;
- Several senior regional officials from the agencies and offices already represented on the work group; and
- Representatives of several additional HHS agencies not part of working group, including the Administration for Children and Families, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and the Food and Drug Administration.
During the conversation among the nearly 30 participants, we heard updates on NHAS-related activities from each work group member and discussion of their agencies’ priorities for the year ahead. These updates painted an encouraging picture of how the Strategy is unfolding in our region and various agencies’ efforts to align activities with the NHAS and support our State, tribal and community partners in doing the same.
During our dialogue about how the NHAS is unfolding in our region, we identified the following accomplishments:
- Increased awareness among key regional personnel of the range of Federally-supported HIV/AIDS programs and activities in the region, enabling greater opportunities for collaboration to meet the needs of specific populations most heavily impacted in our region;
- Sharing informational and other resources for conferences such as the AIDS Coalition for Education’s “Exploring the Social Determinants of HIV” conference; and
- Adding data from each partnering agency to a slide set for the Colorado Department of Public Health’s Prevention and Care Planning Coalition.
We also identified several priority activities that we will pursue together in the months ahead including:
- Conducting a summit/symposium highlighting the NHAS;
- Holding quarterly webinars/calls with six State health departments; and
- Inviting key Federal, state, tribal and AIDS-service organization leaders to our meetings.
Dr. Valdiserri shared an update on the NHAS from a Federal perspective, giving us an encouraging national context for our regional efforts. He noted that many of the same agencies represented in our work group recently met in Washington, DC, to discuss their NHAS implementation efforts and that it is apparent that our region has had many successes with new inter-agency partnerships. He also stressed the importance of feeding regional, State and local information upwards to inform decision-making at all levels, noting that he and his colleagues in the Office of HIV/AIDS Policy find this particularly helpful at the Federal level.
The discussion was both gratifying and motivating for all the stakeholders. Mr. Wilmoth remarked afterwards, “I have to compliment the work group on their ability to assemble such a room full of decision makers to address this topic.” Similarly, our regional colleague from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Karen Clark, noted, “what impressed me was the active engagement of the Regional staff as well as the Regional Administrator and several Agency Department Heads for although we, as work group members, understand the importance of meeting, it is important to know how much support there is beyond the active members.”
The work group members left with a renewed sense of purpose and support from the other stakeholders and leaders present. The diversity and dedication of the work group members is an important strength of this partnership and will contribute tremendously to the continued success of our collaborative efforts to implement the NHAS in Region VIII.
We wanted to share this update with the readers of AIDS.gov to let you know that although there is relatively low HIV prevalence among the States in our region, we are all working to find ways to better coordinate our programs and activities, and align them with the NHAS. We hope that some of our approaches or the collaborative activities we’ve identified might be adaptable in your community.