On behalf of the Office of HIV/AIDS and Infectious Disease Policy (OHAIDP), partners in government, and hundreds of HIV and viral hepatitis stakeholders across the nation, we wish to express our sincere gratitude to Dr. Howard Koh as he prepares to end his more than five years of service as Assistant Secretary for Health. Howard has been an outstanding leader and advocate in our collective efforts to improve America’s response to HIV and viral hepatitis.
Dr. Koh will conclude his tenure as the nation’s 14th Assistant Secretary for Health at the end of July and return to the Harvard School of Public Health where he will assume a new position as Professor of the Practice of Public Health Leadership. At this juncture, it seems appropriate to reflect on some of his many contributions to our important work—although this brief blog doesn’t begin to describe his broad accomplishments in other domains of public health and prevention, which are myriad.
- Supporting the National HIV/AIDS Strategy – Howard has been an ardent supporter of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy (NHAS) since its development phase, when he was among the members of the working group who helped the White House develop and launch the nation’s first comprehensive response to HIV/AIDS. In the years since, he has worked to ensure the goals of the Strategy are realized through collaboration with federal colleagues, private sector leaders, and community advocates across the country. In his plenary address at the International AIDS Conference in 2012, he discussed the development and implementation of the NHAS, providing an overview of its goals and sharing brief examples of how the U.S. is working to achieve them.
- Championing the Evolution of the Secretary’s Minority AIDS Initiative Fund – OHAIDP administers the Secretary’s Minority AIDS Initiative Fund (SMAIF) on behalf of the Assistant Secretary for Health. Since the release of the NHAS, Howard has championed efforts to improve the targeting of SMAIF resources, some $52 million in FY 14, to better serve the needs of vulnerable racial and ethnic minority populations who are disproportionately affected by the HIV epidemic and to align funding with the priorities of the NHAS. This has included funding for innovative cross-agency demonstration projects such as the Care and Prevention of HIV in the U.S. (CAPUS) demonstration project and, more recently, the “Partnerships for Care” collaboration between community health centers and state health departments.
- Ensuring the Inclusion of HIV, Viral Hepatitis, and LGBT Health in Healthy People 2020 – Among the important public health activities under Howard’s purview has been the development and promotion of Healthy People 2020, the science-based, 10-year national objectives for improving the health of all Americans. HIV, viral hepatitis, and LGBT health are well represented among the nationwide health improvement priorities detailed in this decennial plan. Importantly, Howard was an advocate for including a measure of HIV serostatus awareness among the Healthy People 2020 Leading Health Indicators. These indicators communicate high-priority health issues and actions that can be taken to address them, and he helped make sure that this keystone NHAS goal was supported through the Leading Health Indicators.
- Overseeing the Development and Deployment of Core HIV Indicators – In line with his role in overseeing NHAS implementation, Howard supported Department-wide efforts to respond to the NHAS call to standardize HIV indicators across programs and streamline grantee reporting requirements as a means of fostering a more coordinated national response to HIV/AIDS in the United States. Howard’s leadership, input and support resulted in HHS’s identification and adoption of a common set of seven core HIV indicators for use across HHS-supported HIV services and programs. The deployment of these indicators, currently underway, will enhance our capacity to monitor federally funded HIV/AIDS programs in an integrated, streamlined fashion and enable program managers and policymakers to better assess and address gaps in HIV prevention and care programs.
- Leading the Development of the Viral Hepatitis Action Plan – Without Howard’s leadership, we would not have a national Action Plan for the Prevention, Care, and Treatment of Viral Hepatitis, which originated from his office in 2011. He clearly saw the need for a more coordinated national response to hepatitis B and hepatitis C in the U.S., brought together key partners from across HHS, engaged other federal and non-federal partners, and oversaw the development of a plan that, recently renewed, continues to guide our efforts to improve viral hepatitis awareness, prevention, care, and treatment across the country.
“As Assistant Secretary for Health, Howard has been at the forefront of confronting the leading public health issues of our time,” HHS Secretary Sylvia Matthews Burwell recently remarked. “And as one of our top physicians at HHS and in federal government, he has been a trusted and respected voice in implementing and communicating the critical public health dimensions of the Affordable Care Act.”
In expressing our appreciation for Howard’s significant contributions to HIV and viral hepatitis, I would be remiss in not acknowledging that he has also been a thoughtful and generous contributor to this blog, sharing posts about both HIV and viral hepatitis that have included reflections on various HIV Awareness Days, discussions about relevant advances in science and policy, and even video interviews. (Review his posts.)
Finally, as someone who has had the privilege of working closely with Howard on a daily basis, I wish to express my personal gratitude for his integrity, honesty, and unwavering support to improving the health of America’s citizens. While his departure leaves a void, I know that Howard’s wisdom and leadership will continue to have a great impact on our nation’s public health—especially among subsequent cohorts of emerging public health leaders.