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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, July 16, 2010 - Volume 38 Issue 29
White House announces HIV/AIDS strategy
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White House announces HIV/AIDS strategy

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

The White House has announced a new national HIV/AIDS strategy.

Released on June 13 in two documents - the National HIV/AIDS Strategy (NHAS) and the NHAS Federal Implementation Plan - the new strategy is meant to achieve President Obama's stated goal of making the U.S. "a place where new HIV infections are rare and when they do occur, every person, regardless of age, gender, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity or socio-economic circumstance, will have unfettered access to high quality, life-extending care, free from stigma and discrimination."

Some 1.1 million residents of the U.S. are now living with HIV, and approximately 56,000 become infected every year.

NHAS calls for reducing the number of new infections by 25% within five years, and reducing the rate of transmission by 30%.

"We've been keeping pace when we should be gaining ground," Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said at the press conference where the new plans were announced.

In addition to reducing the infection rate, NHAS calls for improving HIV patients' access to treatment, so that 85% of those infected will receive medical care within the first three months of being diagnosed.

Now only 65% of newly diagnosed patients will receive treatment within three months of their diagnosis. NHAS also sets new HIV testing goals. It calls for 90% of people with HIV/AIDS to know that they are infected. Currently, an estimated 79% know.

"The public's sense of urgency associated with combating the epidemic appears to be declining" since the first days of the epidemic, the report says. It calls for the federal government to reduce disparities in access to treatment by directing resources at targeted populations.

"We must reorient our efforts by giving much more attention and resources" to the "populations at highest risk," NHAS says - African Americans, Gay and Bi men of all races, Latinos, and substance abusers.

The new plan calls for increasing diagnoses in each of these target groups by 20% within five years.

In addition, NHAS calls for modest increases in the number of Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program clients who receive continuous care and permanent housing benefits.

Secretary Sebelius announced that $30 million of the Affordable Care Act's Prevention Fund will be dedicated to the implementation of NHAS.

The funding would support the development of "combination prevention interventions," improved surveillance, expanded and targeted testing, and other activities.

Other funds might be available from state and municipal governments and from non-government agencies.

"We can't afford complacency - not when in the 10 minutes I've been talking to you, another American has just contracted HIV," Sebelius said. "That's why our strategy calls for aggressive efforts to educate Americans about how dangerous this disease still is and the steps they can take to protect themselves and their loved ones."

The new strategy was designed by the White House Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP), a part of the Domestic Policy Council.

According to the Implementation Plan, "ONAP has taken steps to engage as many Americans as possible to hear their ideas for making progress in the fight against HIV."

ONAP's outreach included hosting 14 HIV/AIDS Community Discussions, reviewing suggestions from the public via the White House website, conducting a series of expert meetings on HIV-specific topics, and working with government and community partners who organized meetings towards development of a comprehensive national HIV strategy.

Reactions
The new HIV/AIDS strategy debuted to mixed reviews.

HRC President Joe Solmonese called it a "bold and historic framework for addressing HIV and AIDS in the United States."

"But," he added, "the goals and timetables laid out in this document cannot and will not be achieved without strong leadership and robust resources."

The NGLTF said in a statement that "The administration has taken a historic step today in the fight against HIV/AIDS."

The Task Force warned, however, that "the plan doesn't yet go far enough in ending new infections and helping those already coping with the disease to manage it."

The NGLTF statement worried that the federal government was not committing adequate resources to achieving the goals of NHAS.

"The government must make available the necessary resources and life-saving medicines for those in need. Adequate attention to and funding for implementation as well as aggressive timetables are essential to the success of this plan. This ongoing national tragedy requires an immediate, potent and cohesive federal response that is appropriately funded," the NGLTF statement said.

Perhaps the most negative reaction came from Housing Works President and CEO Charles King.

"The president's plan is so flawed that it might actually represent a step backwards in combating HIV and AIDS in the United States," King said.

"Since his days on the campaign trail, President Obama has repeatedly said that he wants to lead the fight against AIDS. Unless he commits significant new resources intended to make major inroads against the spread of HIV, he will be regarded as a leader who did next to nothing about the most devastating epidemic of our time."

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