September 15, 2011
Without the work of many U.S. activists, such as David Munar, the U.S. National HIV/AIDS Strategy (NHAS), which was released in July 2010 by the U.S. Office of National AIDS Policy, may have never happened.
Munar, who was recently promoted to CEO of the AIDS Foundation of Chicago, was a major figure in coordinating the Coalition for a National AIDS Strategy, an alliance of organizations from across the country who were tired of haphazard approaches to the development of a national HIV/AIDS strategy. They believed that the strategy should be a clear and concise plan with set goals in mind, in the same manner as the widely lauded U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which benefits resource-poor countries.
Over the years, the coalition reached out to organizations across the country, gaining support. In 2008, it aggressively sought out politicians to talk about the need for a national strategy. It gained massive Democratic support and even Republican presidential candidate John McCain signed on. Munar's role in bringing about the NHAS was larger than the Coalition for a National AIDS Strategy; he was also instrumental in the 2007 Prevention Justice Mobilization coordinated by Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Project (CHAMP). That coalition advocated for a "prevention justice" framework to be added to the NHAS. "Prevention justice" recognizes that the disparities we see in HIV prevention are not just directly linked to those who are labeled as "most at risk" -- MSM, intravenous drug users, sex workers and their clients -- but also to the social, economic and political issues that drive the epidemic, such as poverty, racism, homophobia and gender inequality.
This framework, in the same manner as Denning's study, calls for a different way of approaching HIV prevention that falls outside of the conventional approaches that have been relied on over the years. And thankfully, it has been incorporated into the NHAS.
Yet, since its release, the NHAS has garnered its share of jeers. Some have said that it doesn't adequately address housing; that its goal of reducing new infections by 25 percent by 2015 may be too lofty; that certain marginalized communities, such as Native Americans, might fall through the cracks; and that this strategy might fall flat without extra funding (it was later announced at the United States Conference on AIDS that the NHAS would receive an increase in funding in upcoming years). But it does serve as a blueprint for how we can move forward. And Munar stresses that his efforts have not slowed down just because the NHAS has been released. "This effort was not just about a plan, but about getting better results," he said. "Now we have to focus our efforts on implementation of the plan to bring down infections, increase care access, and reducing disparities."
If anything, Munar's activism shows the possibilities of what a grassroots-led movement can do to advance a policy agenda rooted in social justice for communities most impacted by HIV.
This article was originally part of the larger article "HIV/AIDS Community Spotlight: People Who Made a Difference in 2010."
Kenyon Farrow is a journalist who resides in Brooklyn, N.Y. Farrow is the co-editor of Letters From Young Activists: Today's Rebels Speak Out (Nation Books 2005), A New Queer Agenda (Queers for Economic Justice 2010) and the upcoming Stand Up! The Politics of Racial Uplift (South End Press). His work has appeared in publications such as theGrio.com, Bilerico.com, AfterElton.com, Utne Reader, Black Commentator, The Indypendent, City Limits, and in the anthology Spirited: Affirming the Soul of Black Lesbian and Gay Identity (Red Bone Press 2006).
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