September 17, 2009
In 2008, over 500 AIDS service organizations from across the nation called on candidates for the Presidency to commit to developing a National AIDS Strategy. Then Senator Barack Obama enthusiastically embraced the need for such a document to bring greater urgency, innovation and coordination to bear to address slow progress in further controlling the domestic epidemic. As President, Mr. Obama has pledged to develop the strategy to achieve three vital outcomes:
To manage the development of a National AIDS Strategy, President Obama also agreed to the community's request that he re-invigorate the moribund Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP) within the Domestic Policy Council of the White House. The new Director of that Office, Jeff Crowley, recently announced that a panel comprised of representatives of the various federal agencies that are involved in the nation's response to HIV/AIDS will be formed to develop and implement the National AIDS Strategy. This is a decidedly different approach to creating the Strategy than proposed by the community, whose vision was the formation of a panel comprised of diverse and multidisciplinary experts from both governmental and non-governmental organizations. Crowley explained the decision to empanel only federal agencies by stressing the importance of having federal agencies feel ownership of and responsibility for creating and implementing the Strategy.
At the same time, Crowley announced that the White House would reinvigorate the President's Advisory Commission on AIDS (PACHA) and appoint the highly respected HIV/AIDS expert Dr. Helene Gayle to serve as its chairperson. It is not entirely clear what role the White House envisions for PACHA with respect either to the development or implementation of the Strategy. The community has requested that, because it will be comprised of diverse non-governmental HIV/AIDS experts, the Commission have input into the development of the Strategy and monitor its implementation alongside the ongoing government panel.
Crowley also announced that, in order to receive community input into the development of the Strategy, ONAP would hold a series of Town Hall meetings across the country at which people living with and at risk for HIV, service providers and concerned citizens would have the opportunity to recommend what should be contained in the plan. Information about dates of these sessions will be available at www.whitehouse.gov.
Finally, the community-based Steering Committee of the Campaign for a National AIDS Strategy, of which Project Inform is a part, will be holding a series of consultations to develop recommendations to the government panel about what key topics it must address in order for the Strategy to be effective. Project Inform will be an active participant in these consultations in the areas of increasing engagement in care and treatment, strengthening HIV prevention, and research.
Great hope is being placed in President Obama to assure that the National AIDS Strategy resolves many questions about how the United States will make further progress against the epidemic through a series of bold, evidence-based and innovative new approaches. Hope also exists that the development of the Strategy will increase coordination and cooperation among key government agencies, as well as among governmental and non-governmental organizations, to assure deeper impact on the epidemic. Project Inform will continue to do its utmost as a member of the Steering Committee of the Campaign for a National AIDS Strategy to assure the success of this much needed effort.