More than 200 in-person and over 180 webcast attendees participated in a recent symposium held in New York City at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Region II office. The meeting was convened by the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health (OASH), Office of the Regional Health Administrator, Regional Resource Network Program (RRNP) and the HHS Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) with a focus on the implementation of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy (NHAS) in the region. When participants were asked by a raise of hands if they had read the Strategy, it was to no surprise that this room full of public and private sector New York City advocates were knowledgeable about the NHAS. The daylong event earned praise from many participants for bringing together federal government officials, federal grantees, New York City advocates, and leaders in addressing HIV/AIDS in our region (New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands) in a spirit of collaboration and partnership. An executive director from a Bronx AIDS service organization noted, “This is the first time I visited the HHS regional office…there’s such a spirit of collaboration at this meeting, thank you for convening us today”.
The goals of the meeting were to:
- Educate attendees on the NHAS and provide a one year update
- Provide an overview and update on federal initiatives/efforts in support of the NHAS
- Highlight the importance and encourage federally-funded programs to align to the NHAS
To help achieve these goals, we worked closely with AIDS service organizations in our region to develop a robust agenda addressing their concerns and promoting opportunities for collaboration among federal, state and local partners. Collectively, we developed an agenda that included presentations about the NHAS and specific examples of how implementation is unfolding within some communities within in our region. In addition, there were opportunities for the participants to engage in small group discussions in order to identify their organizations’ strengths in alignment to the NHAS, as well as specific areas which still require further attention.
Mr. James Albino, Senior Program Manager at the White House Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP), served as our Keynote Speaker. Mr. Albino provided an overview and one year update on the NHAS. In his remarks he highlighted the importance of local support on the success of NHAS implementation.
The integration of a live webcast made this event more widely accessible across our region and nation. The participants heard an informative presentation on the HHS 12 Cities Project and NHAS Coordination by Dr. Timothy Harrison, Senior Policy Advisor for the Office of HIV/AIDS Policy (OHAP) at HHS.
Two panel presentations followed the keynotes. The first was comprised of representatives from several federal agencies with key roles in the Strategy’s implementation, including the CDC, HRSA, and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Each representative shared brief updates on efforts their agencies had taken over the past year to support the implementation of the NHAS and how these efforts would be unfolding in collaboration with state and local agencies. In addition the Region II Regional Director provided an overview of the Affordable Care Act and its impact on people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA).
Our last panel focused on the activities of the two jurisdictions in our region (New York City and Puerto Rico) participating in the 12 Cities Project and CDC’s Enhanced Comprehensive HIV Prevention Plan (ECHPP). Their presentations focused primarily on their activities to date supported by the CDC’s Enhanced Comprehensive HIV Prevention Plan initiative, which is one pillar of the 12 Cities Project. They also mentioned organizational infrastructure, surveillance, data issues, expansion on HIV testing approaches, and the changes to New York State HIV testing laws.
Following these presentations, the participants adjourned into small groups which focused on 1.) identifying areas in which their organizations are already aligned to the NHAS goals and priorities, and, 2.) identifying challenges to align to the Strategy. During the report outs that followed, some of the Strategy-related successes included:
- Priority populations were being targeted.
- Reductions in the newborn infection rate.
- Decreased incidence among injection drug users.
The organizations also highlighted the following as areas of concern:
- Reduction in funding for HIV testing in non-traditional settings
- Reduction in overall funding streams
- Continuing disparities among African Americans and Latinos
From the conversations heard and comments made, the symposium was a great benefit to all. To continue the momentum, we identified several next steps, including developing a Region II Federal interagency NHAS work group, and a community Region II NHAS work group which will further discussion and enhance collaboration.
Angelica Ramirez, Regional Resource Coordinator, Region II, collaborated in convening this meeting and coauthored this post.