by Bob Roehr
The Office of National AIDS Policy released a 76-page report on April 9 but it was not the long-awaited national strategic plan on HIV/AIDS.
The report, Community Ideas for Improving the Response to the Domestic HIV Epidemic, will be used to inform the development of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy that is currently underway. Despite the diversity in settings and respondents, a core set of common themes emerged across all of the recommendations including: improving access to care, reducing stigma surrounding HIV, and coordinating HIV prevention and treatment.
The document, loaded with 67 photos of people speaking into microphones or listening earnestly, summarized community recommendations gathered during a 14 city tour. ONAP Director Jeffrey Crowley called it “a resource” toward formulating the strategic plan.
“We recognized the importance of community involvement early on in our strategy development, which is why we traveled across America and asked for online submissions to hear directly from people on the front lines of the HIV/AIDS epidemic,” Crowley said. “The … report will serve as a resource as we strive to develop a new strategic approach to tackling the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the United States and take steps to better coordinate the federal government’s response.”
Detroit was not included in the tour, but held an independent community discussion, the results of which were videotaped and sent to the White House to be included in the report.
The Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS made virtually all of the same recommendations to President Bill Clinton about 15 years ago, centering around three basic goals: preventing new HIV infections, increasing access to care for people living with HIV and reducing HIV-related health disparities.
“Not all of the recommendations, however, will appear in the National HIV/AIDS Strategy,” ONAP staffer Greg Millett wrote on the ONAP blog. “To be effective, the strategy must include a small number of high payoff items.”
Millett’s comments suggest two things. One is that some of the historically more controversial suggestions, such as federal funding for needle exchange and other risk reduction programs, might not be included in the final plan.
Second is the suggestion that AIDS advocates should not expect to see major new programs or funding when the strategic plan is finally unveiled.
The New York advocacy group Housing Works called the report part of “a steady flow of just enough news to keep the advocates happy.”
“It’s great they’re continuing to keep us updated,” Vice President of Advocacy and Organizing Christine Campbell said. “Hopefully next time we’ll have more information to work with and see if community input is really being taken into effect.”
AIDS Action’s Ronald Johnson said the report “underscores the needs for the domestic epidemic.” He said the message all along from the administration has been not to expect any major expansion of funding. “However, our duty as advocates is to say what is needed” and push for adequate resources.
Last spring when Crowley was appointed to head up ONAP, he said he hoped to have a draft strategic plan out for public comment by the end of 2009. That did not happen and now speculation is that it might be out in May.
The Obama administration has launched a new HIV prevention initiative aimed at the black community, but it has not sought significant new money in its budgets to fund that or any other major expansion of prevention or treatment programs.
The U.S. government requires that every nation receiving PEPFAR funds have a HIV national strategic plan. But three decades into the epidemic the U.S. has never formulated its own domestic AIDS plan. Programs and services remain fragmented and often not well coordinated between many different agencies.
The full report can be found at: http://www.whitehouse.gov/onap.