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The National AIDS Strategy: An Opportunity for Activism

Spring 2011

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Using the Strategy

This does not mean the Strategy is useless or unimportant. It provides a tremendous opportunity for advocates, who have long understood that the fight against HIV is more than just a matter of treatment options. Fortunately, there are signs of increasing awareness of other issues. Almost a year after the release of the Strategy, there have been several reports released by federal agencies that raise concerns about the realities of health disparities:

  • In January, the CDC released the report CDC Health Disparities and Inequalities in the United States -- 2011, which pointed to "ongoing racial/ethnic, economic, and other social disparities in health."
  • In March, the Institute of Medicine released The Health of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender People: Building a Foundation for Better Understanding, which pointed to health disparities along the lines of sexual orientation.
  • In April, the Department of Health and Human Services announced the HHS Action Plan to Reduce Health Disparities, an outline of goals and actions to reduce health disparities among racial and ethnic minorities.

This research and information, confirming what advocates have been saying for years, is a step in the right direction. Health is political. As advocates, we must politicize our agenda. We must move beyond words like "co-factors" to ask more critical questions about what that term really means. Homophobia, transphobia, racism, poverty, etc., are complex issues that cannot be adequately addressed simply by acknowledging their existence. They are serious social forces that penetrate our society in deep ways and fundamentally implicate our legal and governmental system.

Fortunately, continuing research that acknowledges the existence of inequalities opens the door for these forces to enter the conversation, leading to greater understanding of their importance. It is our role to push the conversation further toward reality and to pressure the government to seriously address the consequences of co-factors. If discrimination affects HIV transmission and care, we must address it at all levels.

Understanding state and local agendas is vital to understanding the nuances of how the epidemic operates. Local organizations, service providers, people with HIV, and activists must collaborate and take the lead in creating responses that address the relevant local issues. The Strategy has opened the door, but it is up to us to walk through it. By creating approaches that acknowledge the inequalities driving the epidemic in our communities, we can hold government accountable to the Strategy, no matter its shortcomings.


Let's return to the vision statement of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy:

The United States will become 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.

The Strategy cannot fully answer the question of how to address the HIV epidemic because it misunderstands the nature of the problem, even in its vision. If the government is serious about its commitment, it must consider the relationship between HIV and other co-factors. Disease may always be a reality, but the unequal impact on different communities can be stopped. Based on this, I offer a vision statement that truly reflects the problems behind the epidemic:

The United States will become a place where ageism, sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, and poverty are rare, and people who become HIV positive will have unfettered access to high-quality, life-extending care, free from stigma and discrimination.

John Hellman is director of advocacy for the Latino Commission on AIDS.

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This article was provided by ACRIA and GMHC. It is a part of the publication Achieve. Visit ACRIA's website and GMHC's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.
See Also
National HIV/AIDS Strategy for the United States: Executive Summary
U.S. Announces First National HIV/AIDS Strategy
More on U.S. HIV/AIDS Policy

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